Stability reigns in Wallonia’s property market. To meet ongoing demand, plans to revitalise parts of the region and drive investment are being rolled out in locations such as Charleroi, Liege, Andenne and Namur.
According to Pierre Badot, head of the Wallonia arm of real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield, prime rents in the office market are stable at €150 per square metre per year in Namur and Walloon Brabant. More than 180,000 square metres of office space were rented in 2015 in the Belgian regional office market, with Wallonia accounting for nearly 30,000 square metres of this, slightly more than in 2014 but falling just short of its annual average over the past five years. However, rentals were at their lowest level in Liege since 2011.
“There is still a lack of grade-A office available, except in Namur,” says Mr Badot. “Office projects are under development in Liege with building approval for more than 60,000 square metres. In Charleroi, major city development projects [account for] more than 100,000 square metres.”
Charleroi’s regeneration scheme has been running for some years and includes projects such as the planned upgrade of Brussels South Charleroi Airport, which will enable it to handle 9 million passengers. The Charleroi Airport I and II economic parks have also been built in the area. Covering 500,000 square metres, the parks are designed to house a mix of companies involved in a range of activities, such as small-scale manufacturing, logistics and service industries.
The central district of Ville-Haute is receiving an injection of funds as part of the Charleroi District Créatif project. Projects include renovating the exhibition centre, the Palais des Expositions. The Rive Gauche scheme has redesigned the Ville-Bassedistrict, which will be home to a new business area as well as a shopping centre.
Other projects in the pipeline include making the Sambre Valley into a mixed-use area. There has been urban development around the Gare du Sud and a project to create a 2000-square-metre urban distribution centre is also under way.
New or improved offices in the city include the eight-storey BNP Paribas Fortis building; AG Insurance’s renovated offices; and the refurbishment and extension of Igretec’s head office. The Mambourg (Pays de Charleroi stadium) is being renovated, the law courts are being extended and the Charleroi Danses dance school has been extended.
One of the city’s major structural projects is the building of a new university hospital. As well as this, the Palais des Beaux-Arts is being renovated to make it more energy efficient. A conference centre is being created close to the Palais des Expositions and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, while the establishment of a sciences, arts and crafts campus is intended to boost the number of people in the region going into higher education.
Liege's big plans
In Liege, the municipality of Flémalle’s town centre masterplan includes the Flémalle-Neuve project, which aims to redevelop a 150,000-square-metre brownfield site to provide housing, employment, education and a range of related services.
The Liege Trilogiport, which is spread over an area of 1.2 square kilometres, is currently being expanded, with development plans including the addition of a container terminal, logistical plots, port plots, services park and an environmental integration area to the multi-modal transport hub.
The Gastronomia project involves developing commercial spaces dedicated to food, including dining areas, plus a business centre, parking and a multipurpose area for seasonal events. Space around the renovated halls is also available for private development, including housing.
An old industrial site in Seraing is being revitalised to include a concert hall, industrial units, green spaces and a pedestrian skywalk. The Tours de Jemeppe scheme will see the construction of offices and housing.
A new area for business and housing is being created in front of the HST Station at Liege-Guillemins. This development will include a tramway by 2017. And, at Liege Airport, the creation of an Airport City office park and the Flexport City logistics park are under way.
A mixed-use urban neighbourhood, including business units, housing, services, leisure and culture, is planned for Val Benoit. Meanwhile, Verviers is looking for property and finance partners to support a mix of housing, catering, small business and public leisure areas. The project includes the upgrading of the Nouveau Bazar.
Making headway in Andenne and Namur
The municipalities of Andenne and Namur are also involved in a series of local regeneration projects. In Espace Rogier, Namur, there are plans to create a conservatoire and auditorium. There are also plans for the construction of a trade centre, housing and an underground car park. Also in the pipeline is a pedestrian bridge linking the banks of the River Meuse to form a ‘digital harbour’. There will also be refreshment stands, an information and welcome centre, and a multi-purpose space for conferences, exhibitions and workshops. The project will also include a new meeting place and an underground car park.
In the Courthouse neighbourhood, there are plans for a mixed property scheme that includes housing, offices, parks and shops.
The Belgian Pavilion, which was built for the 2015 World Exhibition in Milan, has been purchased by the City of Namur and Wallonia. It will be relocated in Namur and will become a showcase for new technologies in Wallonia.
Near the centre of Andenne, the Anton project involves the creation of a new district with a mix of sustainable businesses, services and housing.
The Bureau Economique de la Province de Namur is behind a series of business park developments, including the Ecolys Park for businesses involved in sustainable development, and an economic activity zone in Crealys, for life sciences and ICT. The Mecalys Park, dedicated to industry, has been built and is now being kitted out. The new Pâture du Pape mixed business park in Beauraing is being developed, as is the Parc de Biron, near Ciney, which is aimed at agri-business.
There is also a series of business park developments in places such as Sambreville, Vencimont de Gedinne, Wespin de Dinant and Philipeville.
Jean Baheux, head of retail, Belgium and Luxembourg, at Cushman & Wakefield, reports that Wallonia's retail property sector is quite stable, thanks to the sustained level of consumption in the Belgium/Luxembourg zone. However, the financial crisis still casts a long shadow.
He says there is high demand in the best locations, which is exerting a downwards pressure on rents in the weakest locations. Overall, there is considerable potential for expansion by the strongest retailers, particularly the international chains and leading national players, and most of the demand for space is coming from them.
“Yields are quite high considering the stability of the market. In the out-of-town retail market, investors can find good buildings with very good tenants for yields well above 6%. However, yields are becoming less high because demand for retail investment products is driving up investment prices,” he says.
Costs of this report were underwritten by the Wallonia Export & Investment Agency, AWEX. Reporting and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine.