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Nitrogen rules thwart construction of Belgian tomato greenhouse

Last week, in Belgium, the Permits Disputes Council suspended an environmental permit. A tomato greenhouse was to have been built in Hoogstraten. This would have been a 12-hectare complex for Stoffels Tomaten. The relevant Belgian authority had already granted an environmental permit for this in December 2020.

The local nature organization, Natuurpunt Markvallei, is now demanding this permit be annulled too. The tomato growers were aware of this organization's disapproval of the proposed greenhouse.

In the summer of 2020, Stoffels Tomaten made their construction plans well-known in the local media. They'd expected resistance, and according to the growers, that was also 'understandable'. They wanted to dispel concerns in an extensive article

The Council says the PAS nitrogen regulations weren't well-considered. They, therefore, suspended the permit in a ruling on August 12, 2021. They based this on the initial case examination. The judgment states that work on the greenhouse had already begun. The Council issued this ruling at the request of Natuurpunt Markvallei.

Greenhouse complex
The greenhouse complex doesn't only consist of a greenhouse with two CHPs. There is an administrative building, two warehouses, and a rainwater basin too. The builders applied for a permit in August 2019. It was amended in April 2020. The complex is planned for opposite an existing (horticultural) business park in Hoogstraten.

Nature and nitrogen
The Council established in its ruling that the facility is located near a nature reserve. It's a Habitat Directive area. Natuurpunt Markvallei showed there are certain natural resources present. These are sensitive to nitrogen deposition. This was all in a press release.

The minister that granted the initial permit concluded that the company's nitrogen emissions contributed less than five percent of the so-called critical load. So, it wouldn't significantly affect the area. There would also be no significant degradation in the nature reserve.

The Council ruled that this assessment didn't adequately examine the tomato farm's potential risk of significant impact to the nearby Habitat Directive area. The minister based his evaluation on the so-called preliminary PAS framework.

Merely referring to the general thresholds of the then applicable PAS is insufficient. A concrete assessment of the significant effects on the nearby natural area (Article 36 of the Nature Decree) must be done. That is according to the Council.

They add that the applicant drawing up an appropriate assessment isn't relevant. It doesn't appear the Minister specifically considered this study when granting the permit.

You can read the August 12, 2021 judgment (in Dutch) here.

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