Every day, the Flemish and Walloon radio stations tell the story of long traffic delays on the roads: gridlock on the Brussels and Antwerp ring-roads, traffic jams on the N16 and the N21, and extensive delays on the E40 at Ghent and E313 at Hasselt. Interestingly, one name is absent from the daily traffic reports, and that’s Mechelen. This is certainly good news for the people that live there, but it’s also true for the City Council who is able to promote the city as not only charming but also centrally located, and one that is and will remain easily accessible. By road, at least.
Thanks to its location in the heart of the country, Mechelen is also easy to reach by train from nearly all Belgian and European cities. It takes less than 20 minutes to get there from Brussels, Leuven or Antwerp, and the railway and bus stations are within walking distance of each other. The international airport Zaventem (Brussels Airport) is a mere 10-minute train ride away.
Despite Mechelen’s existing good location and ease of access, its Council has been working for some time to further optimise the city’s accessibility. And for good reason; precisely because of its location between Antwerp and Brussels, Mechelen is becoming more and more popular with companies suffering from the reduced accessibility of these large cities. It’s goes without saying though that more local business also increases the number of inhabitants. In the past decade, the population of Mechelen has risen by more than 7000, bringing the total number of inhabitants to 83,000. Incredibly, more people now live in a radius of 25 km from Mechelen’s central market square than in the same radius around Antwerp and Brussels. In order to better exploit the city and its location’s potential, a large-scale redevelopment plan has been devised focussing on the area around the station.
In the coming years, the area surrounding Mechelen’s station will undergo a complete transformation. Not only will the city have a new central station, the neighbouring buildings will be refurbished and incorporated to form the new heart of the city.
The Beherman Group is a major player in this urban renewal project. The Group itself owns over thirteen hectares of land in this development, in an area called “Ragheno Park”. Recently the Group concluded successful negotiations with the authorities to regenerate previously polluted land and for which a Brownfield covenant has been obtained. Work is already in progress in parts of the project area. For example, the centralised blood transfusion service of the Flemish arm of the Belgian Red Cross, will set up their headquarters in the Ragheno Park. This building is nearing completion, and should be occupied by the end of the year. It marks the start of the revival of the station area that will not only transform how Mechelen looks but set in motion the new future of the city.
The strategic extension of the large area surrounding the station is one of the key features of Mechelen’s Municipal Structure Plan. It will undoubtedly be the most impressive urban development project taking place in Mechelen over the coming decades and will most surely come to international attention. For 21st century Mechelen, the city has chosen for sustainable mobility, daring architecture and new urban planning ideas. This will involve the construction of a new railway line (Bypass), a new and essential access road for cars and lorries coming in and out of the city (Tangent), the development of a multimodal railway and bus station and the upgrading of streets and squares in the station area, resulting eventually in changes to the traffic flow.
The work on the Bypass needs to be done quickly so allowing international trains to pass through the city at speeds of 160 km/h instead of the current 100 km/h. It will also have the added effect of increasing the overall capacity, notably as part of the Diabolo and RER projects. Mechelen Station will therefore become the main public transport hub in the city, with the province of Antwerp to the north and Flemish-Brabant province in the south, but also for travel by bus. Mechelen Station will in the future provide easier access to the surrounding region – including the city, the suburbs and the more remote municipalities. The new station will be a mere 7-minute walk from Ragheno Park.
The Tangent and Bypass are part of the same infrastructure project, and both offer high quality urban planning and architecture. Both infrastructures have been designed using an integrated approach. During the construction phase, the inconvenience to the city and its inhabitants/workers will be kept to a minimum. The station building – a Eurostation design, created by architects Salvatore Bono and Brent Turchak – will be user friendly and future proof.
The new station is set to become the driving force for the regeneration of the wider area. A mixed living and working area will emerge on the south east side of the station, which should bring the 21st century to medieval Mechelen. This district should become a more attractive place to live and stay in, but also provide space for companies and organisations that are confronted in other parts of Belgium with space constraints (no options for expansion), poor access and heavy financial costs (overly high rents). These restrictions do not exist in the Ragheno Park, the area that the Beherman Group is developing with several partners.
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As of 2012, the Beherman Group signed a cooperation agreement with the experienced Eurostation team and De Paepe Group for this new project. It aims to sustainably develop the area, give an honest return on investment, be socially accountable and have a minimum ecological impact on the area. Complying entirely with these basic conditions, the Beherman Group is now launching the first major project under the name “Pure M”.