The role of brownfield sites in the climate transition

The role of brownfield sites in the climate transition

During the first half of 2021, Idea Consult had the opportunity to draw up the socio-economic part of the two largest Master Plans launched by the Walloon region in the last 20 years: that of the industrial land belonging to Arcelor in Liège and the Duferco sites and surroundings at the Porte Ouest in Charleroi.

We put our expertise at the service of these two missions in order to identify the most suitable economic activities to be set up on each of the wastelands according to the local and European economic context.

We wanted to place these urban wasteland rehabilitations at the heart of the climate transition. We had a dual ambition: to make the industrial space compatible with biodiversity and the landscape on the one hand, and with proximity and urban quality on the other. To do this, we followed the following guidelines:

Circularisation of a scarce resource: land

The land occupied by former industries is significant, with several hundred hectares of land abandoned since the cessation of industrial activities. These areas are often located in places that are highly served by water, rail and road, and are widely connected to energy sources. Given the density of the area, they have developed in a certain proximity to the urban areas.

All these criteria have led us to reconsider the scarcity of this land for the community and to integrate them into a circular logic. We therefore propose that they not be sold, but rather made available under a long-term lease. This long-term real estate lease will make it possible to avoid situations where the user no longer has the means or the desire to develop the local economy but nevertheless has sufficient means to keep the land and block its development. Following in the footsteps of the Walloon government, which is committed to returning 100 ha of wasteland to the service of the population each year in order to stem the artificialisation of the land, we propose to go one step further by preserving this stock of land intended for economic activity over the very long term.

Using time to gain inventiveness

The plots of land made available require several years of clean-up before they can be marketed. However, this environmental gain represents a real brake for economic activities that require more reactivity. Traditional activities are therefore not likely to be established directly on brownfield sites. On the other hand, this temporality can be used to serve the Walloon redeployment project in at least two ways:

  • Take advantage of the latency of the soil to already generate economic activity linked to intermediate, temporary and demonstrative forms of depollution (e.g. Trixhe Project, etc)
  • Directly target the development of pilots that are developing in advanced fields but that will require space when they reach maturity and therefore when the clearance is completed
  • Integrate a new type of stakeholder, the citizens or final beneficiaries, to develop more innovative and responsive projects.

From monofunctional plates to pieces of the city

Today's economy is mainly based on the attractiveness of talent in the territories. This presupposes attractive living environments, numerous places for networking and quality workplaces. Industry separated from the world and inserted in a closed and not very welcoming universe no longer makes sense. Consequently, it is not so much functional spaces that must be designed as pieces of territory that will improve the living environment of urban spaces and the environmental quality of green spaces. Future industrial sites must be integrated into the city and offer quality services to attract employees. They must also contribute to the quality of the living environment and offer attractive open spaces for local residents.

Towards a strong landscape infrastructure

Orphan pollution is the result of an unconscious development of the limits of our environment to absorb waste. Today, it is necessary to integrate their capacity to depollute themselves and to reinforce the nature in which they are embedded into the design of sites.

Valley channels, infiltration basins and ecological continuities are now part of the infrastructure accompanying business parks in the same way as electrical conduits or optical fibre. By integrating the space supporting production with the space supporting the enhancement of biodiversity, not only is compatibility between human activity and nature created, but also an attractive territory for the economy, residents and visitors.

The regeneration of industrial sites is thus a source of:

  • Economic transition by offering new jobs adapted to the local and European economic context;
  • Environmental transition by proposing de-polluted, "circularised" land that contributes to the strengthening of biodiversity;
  • Social transition by allowing a deeper exchange between the different actors of the companies and between the company and the citizens.
arrow team members
foto Loïc Géronnez
Loïc Géronnez
Expert Territorial Development & Real Estate
foto David Monic
David Monic
Expert Real Estate & Territorial Development


  • Walloon government