The government can't decide which products are sold where. That is what 4 retail and real estate trade federations have said during a debate on the regionalization of the retail location policy, a week-and-a-half ahead of the elections.
Regions responsible from 1 July onwards
From 1 July 2014 onward, regions will have to take care of the retail location policy, which means they get to decide which stores can be located where and which conditions these stores have to adhere to.
The large retail chains have similar concerns to those who own and operate commercial real estate, as they all have serious concerns about the way Flanders will tackle the retail location policy. Comeos Vlaanderen, BVS-UPSI (the real estate trade union), Retail Forum Belgium and Belgian Luxembourg Council of Shopping Centers (the shopping centers' representative) fear that stores located in the suburbs are threatened in their livelihood. That was the general consensus in a debate at the real estate fair Realty, at Tour & Taxis.
"Nucleus-empowering policy goes too far"
The Flemish government has drafted the 'Integraal Handelsvestigingsbeleid' decree to prepare the regionalization. "That decree lowers the retailers' administrative worries. Environmental and trade permits, alongside planning certificates, are joined together, which will facilitate and shorten application procedures. That is something we definitely applaud", Jan Delfosse (Comeos Vlaanderen's Director-General) said.
Local governments now also have the authority to designate certain zones as "low in shopping" and to limit the array of products that can be on sale. That idea is a way to protect stores in inner-city areas, but that would be a blow for the stores (and mainly larger chains) in the suburbs according to Comeos Vlaanderen. "The nucleus-empowering policy goes too far. We concede that inner-city stores are essential, but stores in the suburbs also have their significance as people can use them for run-shopping. People can quickly get what they need there, while inner-city shopping revolves around fun-shopping", according to Jan Delfosse.
"Detrimental for investments"
Olivier Carrette, managing director for BVS-UPSI, believes the "new policy will endanger investments. Why should we expand our store if the next day, its array of products could be cut down? What if we want to change our range of products? When you suddenly find yourself in a "low in shopping" area, you may no longer get a permit to expand or remodel your store."
That is why the 4 organisations have asked for a dialogue with the Flemish government. "The commercial real estate branch needs clear rules, rules that encourage investment. We will continue to look for a constructive dialogue", they say.