The Flemish government uses its competencies to take necessary measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to guarantee public health and safety.
Below you will find an overview of the measures recently adopted by the Flemish government in relation to obtaining permits.
Exemption from the requirement for a permit in case of a civil emergency relating to public health
The COVID-19 virus is having a major impact on existing health infrastructure and the need for additional healthcare facilities, while the production of drugs and medical equipment is increasing.
That is why, by the emergency decree of 20 March 2020, the Flemish government has granted an exemption from the authorisation requirement for the construction and operation of additional hospitals, care facilities, production facilities for medicines and medical equipment and laboratories.
No environmental permit or environmental notification is required if all the following conditions are met :
- The Flemish government confirms the civil emergency in relation to public health and determines its duration and commencement date;
- The derogation is valid for a period of maximum 120 consecutive days which comes into force on the commencement date. The Flemish government may extend this period once for a maximum of 120 consecutive days;
- The derogation is only valid for constructions, modifications in function and operations with the aim of manufacturing medicines and medical equipment, or of extending or improving the capacity of hospitals and other care facilities, care institutions or research units, in order to prevent or manage the effects of the civil emergency on public health;
- The general and sectoral environmental conditions and obligations and the regulations for their application, notified by or relating to the decree of 5 April 1995 containing general provisions on environmental policy, are complied with.
Measures relating to procedural deadlines or procedural obligations
Furthermore, with the emergency decree of 20 March 2020, it was decided that the Flemish government may suspend or extend certain binding procedural deadlines or temporarily adapt certain procedural obligations.
This additional measure was introduced in case the coronavirus crisis would take on (even) greater proportions and the Flemish and local administrations would lose crucial functions and consequently the deadlines or procedures could not be met.
Among other things, this measure prevents a permit from being automatically refused if the application is not processed within the set time limits. It also provides a solution in the event that it is no longer practically possible to organise public inquiries, to have files consulted, to take advice, etc.
By decree of 24 March 2020, the specific measures mentioned below were adopted by the Flemish government.
- Scope of the measures
The measures listed below apply to the time limits or procedural obligations set out in the Environmental Permits Decree and its execution decree and the EER (Environmental Effect Reporting)-Procedural Decree, but only to the following permit applications and administrative appeals:
- all permit applications and administrative appeals lodged before 24 March 2020 which, as of 24 March 2020, are pending before the competent licensing authority and in which, at that time, no explicit or tacit decision has yet been taken by the competent licensing authority as the final administrative instance;
- permit applications and administrative appeals lodged between 24 March 2020 and 24 April 2020, renewable where appropriate.
- Extensions of time limits
- The time limit for taking a decision on an application for authorisation in the first administrative instance shall be extended by 30 or 60 days respectively, depending on whether the application is dealt with under the simplified authorisation procedure or the normal authorisation procedure.
- The time limit for taking a decision relating to an administrative appeal shall be extended by 60 days.
- The time limit for lodging an administrative appeal against decisions taken in first administrative instance or against decisions on an application or official initiative to update the single permit is extended by 30 days.
- The time limits determining when a single permit granted from 24 March 2020 to 24 April 2020 (period may be extended, if necessary) may be used, shall be extended by 30 days.
- The Minister may further extend the above-mentioned periods.
- Adjustments to the procedure for public inquiries
- The public inquiries in progress on March 24, 2020 will be suspended and continued after April 24, 2020.
- Objections submitted during the period of suspension will be considered admissible.
- New public inquiries may only be held after 24 April 2020.
- On the website of the municipality, information on the start and end dates of the public inquiries shall be kept up to date. If, in accordance with Article 67 of the Environmental Permits Decree (Omgevingsvergunningsdecreet), the municipality has been commissioned to conduct a public inquiry, it will keep the competent authority informed of this information regarding the start and end dates of the public inquiries.
- The Minister may further extend the above-mentioned deadlines.
- Adjustments to the procedure for processing applications for authorisation or administrative appeals
- Where appropriate, the competent authority, the provincial or regional environmental officer or the chairman of the Environmental Permits Committee may decide to hold the hearings only in writing, by teleconference or by videoconference.
- Where appropriate, the chairman of the Environmental Permits Committee may decide to hold meetings by teleconference or videoconference when considering permit applications or administrative appeals.
- Amendments to the advisory procedure
- For administrative applications or appeals, late or unissued advices are not considered tacitly favourable, but the obligation to give advice may be disregarded. However, the possibility of appeal referred to in Article 53, 3° of the Decree on Environmental Permits is maintained, even if an advice is late or has not been issued.
- Contrary to Article 12 of the EER-procedural Decree, late or non-issued advices are not considered tacitly favourable. However, the obligation to give an advice may be disregarded.
Procedural deadlines for the ‘Raad voor Vergunningenbetwistingen’ (Council for Permit Disputes) and the ‘Handhavingcollege’ (Environmental Protection College)
In addition, the decree of 27 March 2020 also issues specific measures for the procedural deadlines for the ‘Raad voor Vergunningenbetwistingen’ (Council for Permit Disputes) and the ‘Handhavingscollege’ (Environmental Protection College).
- Extensions of time limits
- Expiry periods referred to in the ‘DBRC’ Decree (decreet van 9 december 2016 houdende wijziging van diverse decreten, wat de optimalisatie van de organisatie en de rechtspleging van de Vlaamse bestuursrechtcolleges betreft) and its execution decree (besluit van de Vlaamse regering van 21 april 2017 tot wijziging van het besluit van de Vlaamse Regering van 16 mei 2014 houdende de rechtspleging voor sommige Vlaamse bestuursrechtscolleges, wat betreft de optimalisatie van de organisatie en de rechtspleging van de Vlaamse bestuursrechtscolleges) which run on or between 27 March 2020 and 24 April 2020 inclusive will be extended by 30 days, with the exception of the expiry periods for requests for suspension of extreme urgency.
- The time limits for appeals to the ‘RVVB’ and the ‘Handhavingscollege’, which run from 27 March 2020 or which start from 27 March 2020 to 24 April 2020, are extended by 30 days.
- The Minister may decide to extend the above-mentioned periods by 30 days.
- The processing of the request for suspension of extreme urgency
- The submission of an application and the exchange of procedural documents can take place from 27 March 2020 up to and including 24 April 2020 by means of an e-mail to the Permit Disputes Board: email@example.com.
- Notifications by the Council for Permit Disputes (RVVB) are possible from 27 March 2020 to 24 April 2020 by means of an e-mail addressed to the parties concerned.
- From 27 March 2020 to 24 April 2020 inclusive, the chairman of the chamber may decide to organise the hearing digitally or may immediately take the case into consideration if the parties, in mutual agreement, refrain from handling the case at the hearing. Contrary to Section 40, §4, 2nd paragraph of the DBRC Decree, the application will not be rejected if, in such event, the applicant does not appear or is not represented at the hearing.
With regard to the applications for annulment, the Council for Permit Dispute (RVVB) also invites the parties to the proceedings to refrain from handling the case during the hearings planned in March and April 2020, so that the case can be examined immediately with a view of a decision.
In addition, the Registry is temporarily unavailable by telephone. The Registry can still be reached by e-mail:
– for RvVb via firstname.lastname@example.org
– for the HHC via email@example.com
Modification of deadlines and obligations for planning procedures
Finally, the Flemish government adopted an execution decree implementing the decree regulating environmental planning procedures, environmental development plans, complex projects, assessment of the environmental impact of plans, urban planning regulations and planning certificates.
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