The Flemish Government aims to find new uses for 350 parish churches
The Flemish Government has announced measures that will help municipal authorities find new uses for parish churches that are no longer used for religious services. An existing system of grants to help fund work to enable new or additional uses to be found for church buildings will be extended. The aim is a new or an additional use to have been found for 350 churches in our region by 2025.
From 2025, every municipality in Flanders must have a Church Policy Plan. The office of the Flemish Interior Affairs Minister Bart Somers (liberal) says that almost every municipality in our region already has such a plan. However, about half of plans are in need of revision.
To assist with this, the Flemish Government, the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG) and the Centre for Expertise on religious art and culture (PARCUM) have come up with a series of measures. One such measure is the new Platform Future Parish Churches this will be a central point of contact for municipalities and church boards.
Local authorities will also be able to apply for more subsidies to, for example, help finance the renovations associated with the redevelopment of church buildings. Mr Somers told journalists that "We are now also going to finance the feasibility study and the consultation process." says Somers.
"The study must examine whether the project is technically and economically feasible. The consultation process is there to guide people. A project may encounter resistance from the local population that has an emotional value to the church”.
The Chair of the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities, Wim Dries told VRT News that there are numerous challenges when finding new uses for church buildings. "Local authorities are responsible for financing the churches and this can cause tensions. The platform can help point the way to finding good solutions."
Meanwhile, the Flemish Heritage Minister Matthias Diependaele (nationalist) says that a new use for a church building can also have a major impact its the heritage value. "38% of churches are listed building and a further 15% as partially listed."
There are around 1,800 parish churches in Flanders. In 200 of these religious services no longer take place. 40% of church buildings are currently also used for other activities than religion. These include concerts, exhibitions and community-based activities.