The PAD/GRUP Defense project and the design of the Reine Elisabeth Ecological Park

Background of the project

The huge La Défense site (90ha) to the east of Brussels is the subject of much attention. As the NATO headquarters have moved to the other side of the Boulevard Léopold III and with La Défense wanting a new, more compact headquarters, a third of the site was due to be empty in 2017. This presented an opportunity to develop a new mixed neighbourhood, a metropolitan landscaped park and an ecological corridor including at least 20 hectares of forest. The remaining two-thirds is home to the bilateral cooperative programme, “Partnership for Peace”, and the current headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (La Défense Nationale).

There are a number of challenges in the PAD (Plan d’Action Directeur, blueprint for action) / GRUP (Gewestelijke Ruimtelijke UitvoeringsPlannen, regional spatial implementation plan) for the Défense site: the scale of the study area is huge, the approaches taken by the two regions need to be reconciled and the area is on the edge of the city and not very accessible. There needs to be some real innovation if we want to turn this part of the city into a contemporary bridge between the city and the landscape. Given its location, it is also a pilot project for interregional cooperation.

After a consultation process involving local citizens in 2019, a multidisciplinary and bilingual team (urban architect, landscape architect, ecology expert, mobility expert, environmental impact expert) was therefore asked to develop the planning framework.

E-BIOM’s role

E-BIOM is a member of the consortium responsible for developing a PAD and a GRUP for the site and adjacent cemeteries. Our partners on the project are XDGA, MDP and Tractabel. As a co-contractor, E-BIOM is involved in all the different stages of the project including :

  • Preparing a project outline ;
  • Preparing a guidance note and the overall strategic vision. With more than 60% of the project’s surface area dedicated to encouraging more nature or consolidating the landscape, the biodiversity is an important issue ;
  • Drawing up the preliminary draft and the draft PAD / GRUP ;
  • Offering design advice throughout the process.

In 2021, E-BIOM also ran several workshops within the “Nature” interactive workshop as well as taking part in the “Mobility” workshop.

E-BIOM’s two main goals in this project are :

  • Maximising biodiversity and ecosystem services ;
  • Developing an ecological corridor between the Brussels and Flemish Regions.

In practical terms, E-BIOM has recommended a number of developments to meet these goals, including in particular by creating a large Reine Elisabeth Park: the southern part of the La Défense site will be transformed into a metropolitan and ecological landscaped park with different functions (nature, park, urban agriculture) creating ecological and recreational links with the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Parc Reine Elisabeth

This park will include :

  • An ecological park housing facilities and infrastructures designed to promote ecological continuity. This will include a public area and a number of ecological reserves that will be closed to the public.
  • An urban forest of at least 20 hectares, a real forest reserve dedicated to biodiversity in close proximity to human activities. It is recommended that this reserve will be closed to the public.  To help make sure the site is colonised quickly and thoroughly, E-BIOM recommends the Miyawaki planting method for urban forests, using only local species.
  • A clearing, created using hedgerows and strips of trees, will offer landscaping opportunities over a flat expanse of land. It is a good idea to take advantage of the size of this space to combine different uses: social (lawns), biodiversity (wasteland), economic (market gardening plots, orchards etc.).
  • Consolidation of the blue and green infrastructure by also recommending work in cemeteries in Brussels, Schaerbeek and Evere in the west 70ha) and in Woluweveld in the east in order to consolidate ecological connectivity.

To begin with, E-BIOM carried out an overall ecological diagnosis of the study area, paying particular attention to areas of biological interest. Next, the species of interest on and near the site were identified on the basis of map data material and field surveys, in order to adapt the development plans in a more focused way.

The services offered by E-BIOM to enhance biodiversity in urban areas

First of all an initial diagnosis is carried out, which includes an expert assessment of flora and fauna present, field surveys (existing and potential natural habitats, species of interest etc.) and a cartographic study detailing in particular the ecological network, the green, blue and dark infrastructure etc.

After this, our consultancy service helps to recommend actions and developments designed to preserve and consolidate biodiversity, such as installing green roofs and facades, planting flowering meadows or hedgerows, creating wildlife shelters, managing invasive exotic species, as well as plant pallets. The approach is geared towards ecosystem services and nature-based solutions. Help with implementation is also available.

Lastly, E-BIOM supports its partners with the biodiversity component of BREEAM and HQE certifications, as well as developing its own system for setting up and monitoring biological indicators.