Natuurpunt protests extension of convent in National Park

Summary

The nature conservancy organisation Natuurpunt is considering legal action to stop an extension to a convent that it says was illegally built in the first place in the Hoge Kempen National Park

Permit approved

Flemish nature conservancy organisation Natuurpunt is considering legal action to oppose the extension of a convent in Maasmechelen, Limburg, which it claims was constructed illegally. The government of Flanders recently approve an environmental permit for the convent, the latest step towards having the construction regularised.

The convent (pictured) was built in 1993, following the will and testament of King Boudewijn, on a parcel of privately owned land that is now within the Hoge Kempen National Park. The area officially became a national park in 2006. The convent is occupied by an order of Carthusian nuns.

A building permit issued for the convent was twice suspended by the Council of State, in 1999 and in 2009. Two years ago, the bishopric of Hasselt, the order of nuns and a foundation then administered by the late Queen Fabiola – the widow of Boudewijn – began a procedure to have the construction regularised, followed by a substantial extension to the complex to create more capacity.

The approval of the environmental permit is the latest step in that procedure. The environmental impact report states that the convent has no negative effect on soil, flora or fauna; there is a minor effect on deforestation, it said, but nothing that cannot be compensated by planting elsewhere. The next step, a planning report, can now go ahead.

“We continue to oppose the complex,” commented Jos Ramaekers of Natuurpunt. “We still have to study the details of the report before taking a position, but we cannot exclude further legal steps. A fig-leaf solution for the existing building is one thing, but causing even more damage cannot be tolerated. This is a flagrant example of the deterioration of nature. Some people in Belgium are more equal than others.”
Photo courtesy Het Belang van Limburg

Hoge Kempen National Park

Hoge Kempen National Park is Flanders’ largest nature reserve and its only national park. Situated between Genk and the Meuse Valley in Limburg province, the park consists mostly of heathland, moorlands and pine woods.
Purple - In August and September, species like common and bell heather colour the park purple.
At the top - With a 50- to 100-metre altitude, the park is in the highest part of the Kempen.
Five - Visitors can enter the park from gateways in five cities – As, Genk, Lanaken, Maasmechelen and Zutendaal.
2 006

park opened

5 000

surface area in hectares

800 000

visitors per year