In the Flemish Parliament in Antwerp and in Belgian Agriculture, a lot of discussion has started about the nitrogen problem. After a court decision last week halted the Flemish PAS registration of nitrogen emissions, from now on a complete EIA procedure must be completed for each new activities.
In Kortessem, Limburg, a chicken company wanted to build an extra barn for about 80,000 chickens. As a result, the company would emit 6,850 kilos of nitrogen per year. According to the judge, the Flemish livestock farmer cannot prove that the nature reserve will not be further affected by its expansion.
Since 80 percent of the Belgian Natura 2000 site TP9Tn has to deal with too much nitrogen, Flanders has been in breach of the Habitat Directive for several years now. It was the first time that a Belgian court suspended a license purely on the basis of the nitrogen argument. The Flemish media already refers to 'Dutch situations'.
The Flemish Minister of Economy and Agriculture Hilde Crevits (CD&V) said in the parliamentary debate that tough, far-reaching measures may be needed. Her Environment colleague Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) said that the authorities will now be careful with each (permit) application and must make an individual assessment of each file that is presented.
It also became clear from the current affairs debate that Belgian officials have been trying for years to establish an adequate legal basis under the PAS registration, and that the court decision does not come as a complete surprise. This led to accusations that the government and the ministries have not done enough about it in recent years.
Minister Crevits said that the government expects a lot (reducing nitrogen) from innovative improvements, but also made it clear that measures are needed, especially in intensive livestock farming. And that this will not only concern 'nitrogen in the air', but also 'chemicals in soil and drinking water' and 'biodiversity in agriculture'.
The Flemish ministers have now been instructed to draw up a legally watertight definitive Flemish plan against nitrogen pollution. And that can have major consequences for all kinds of permits and building plans, not only in agriculture, but also in the rest of Belgium.
For nuisance act permits in Belgium divided into three areas: red, orange and green. In red bieden, environmental nuisance must be stopped and reduced, and in orange bieden it must not increase. In the green zones, farms wishing to expand in an environmental impact report must indicate how much their nitrogen emissions will increase. This must be checked by independent experts.
An EIA report is only unnecessary if the expected nitrogen growth remains below five percent. The court has now ruled that an investigation is always necessary, even with small increases.