© Belfius

The official inauguration of the new administrative centre in Bierbeek (Flemish Brabant) took place on 18 March 2016 in the presence of representatives of the European Investment Bank and Belfius. In bringing together the CPAS (public social action centre), the municipal administration and even a local police unit within one low-energy building, the municipality of Bierbeek can provide an improved service to its population. This proves, in particular, that sustainable construction is perfectly feasible and within the reach of local authorities, including small municipalities. 'Smart Cities' are now clearly gaining momentum. The well thought-out, strategic approach adopted by Bierbeek is proof that rural municipalities can, at their level, also contribute to the achievement of the EU's climate action goals.

In 2009 the municipality of Bierbeek decided to build a brand new administrative centre. From the outset, emphasis was placed not only on improving the service provided but also on the building's accessibility and environmental sustainability.

  • With its new municipal building, Bierbeek aims to lead by example in terms of energy performance. As regards architectural aspects, the building (K:39) is already fully compliant with BEN (Bijna-EnergieNeutraal, near-zero energy consumption) standards, with which public buildings will be required to comply as from 2019.
  • To heat the building Bierbeek opted for a biomass-fired scheme which will put to effective long-term use the prunings from sunken paths and hedges.
  • The cost of this low-energy municipal building is no higher than that of a "traditional" municipal building. Bierbeek has thus proven that sustainable construction is within the reach of a public authority.
  • Improving services was at the heart of this project: bringing together the municipal administration and the CPAS under the same roof optimises both the internal and external services. Collaboration between the municipal entities and the CPAS is easier as a result. The police also has a unit in the same building. Furthermore, the municipal building was integrated into the De Borre cultural and sports centre, which generates synergies in terms of sharing conference rooms and meeting rooms.
  • The municipality of Bierbeek has clearly chosen to embrace soft mobility. In association with the public transport company De Lijn, the municipality has made the administrative centre a hub for the town's bus routes. All inhabitants of the municipality can now get to the area where the municipal building and the De Borre centre are located easily by bus. Parking areas for bicycles are also available for cyclists.Accessibility for people with reduced mobility was of course already taken into account at the building's design stage.

It soon became apparent during the analysis of the proposal that this project was genuinely based on a smart, strategic, integrated and sustainable approach. It tied in perfectly with the EU2020 objectives in respect of energy performance and sustainable mobility. The proposal therefore had no difficulty in being considered eligible for the 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' financing programme of Belfius and the European Investment Bank. Bierbeek's administration was among the first to benefit from this exclusive, advantageous financing.

The works began in January 2014 and were completed in early March 2016. The total budget was EUR 6 280 907, of which EUR 4 625 000 was covered by a loan provided by Belfius and the EIB.

Johan Vanhulst, mayor: "As a responsible municipality, we explored a number of avenues for constructing the new municipal building at an affordable price. We must applaud the fact that the European Investment Bank and Belfius are bearing part of the burden accompanying our loan thanks to the 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' programme. This confirms the sound, well thought-out, sustainable approach of this project, which was designed to centralise a number of municipal entities."

Belfius/EIB 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' Programme

Recently awarded a prize by the British magazine World Finance, the 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' financing programme is intended to make EUR 400 million available to local authorities in Belgium for the implementation of 'smart and sustainable' projects in line with the 'Smart Cities' approach and with a particular emphasis on mobility, urban development and/or energy efficiency.

The objective of this programme is to minimise borrowing costs for municipalities, CPAS (public social action centres) and inter-municipal utilities in order to support their innovative and sustainable approach. The EIB and Belfius are each providing half of the funds.

A year and a half after the launch, progress is excellent. A number of projects financed under this programme have already been completed or are currently under way, including the new town hall in Gembloux, the new municipal building in Bierbeek, a near-zero energy sheltered housing facility in Schelle, the CNG plant of the inter-municipal waste management utility IMOG in Harelbeke, the development of La Croisette in Dinant and the renovation of Deinze town centre. A long list of other proposals is still under examination. The 'Smart Cities' initiative is clearly gaining momentum and, as demonstrated by the example of Bierbeek, it is not the preserve of big cities. Small municipalities can also sign up to this approach.

Delighted with the success of the 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' programme, EIB Vice-President Pim van Ballekom, remarked: "The 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' programme is a first for Belgium and also for Europe. It aims to provide real impetus to the 'Smart Cities' initiative so that this approach can become the new standard for the development of the towns and cities of the future. 'Smart, inclusive and sustainable' projects as advocated by the EU's Europe 2020 strategy will be drivers of growth for these entities for the benefit of their citizens."

Dirk Gyselinck, member of Belfius Bank's Management Board, added: "Regardless of their size, towns have no other choice but to become smart in order to remain attractive. Even though there is no shortage of ideas, projects still run into financing hurdles too often when it comes to putting these ideas into practice. It is precisely to facilitate the implementation of the numerous smart projects throughout the country that are currently in the pipeline or at an embryonic stage that Belfius has developed the 'Smart Cities & Sustainable Development' programme with the EIB."

For further information about the EIB and its climate action approach: www.eib.org.

For further information about Belfius's 'Smart Cities' strategy: www.belfius.be/smartcities.