Candidate – Belgium
Submission by: Patrick Everaerts, Municipality of Beringen
Project name: Beringen Mine, transformation from black coal green gem.
The town of Beringen is located in the western part of the Belgian province of Limburg. The surrounding heath landscape underwent a drastic change at the beginning of the 20th century as a result of coal mining. But the coal story came to an end in 1989. The Beringen Mine core has the best preserved patrimony of all Limburg mine sites. Several buildings were protected, and the Director’s Park and the Kioskplein were classified as a rural conservation area, which is important in the reconversion of the area. Since then, several buildings have already been restored and given other functions, including the open spaces. The Director’s Park became a public park and the ‘terrils’ (slag heaps; large mounds of coal waste) were set up as a nature reserve and adventure park. On a micro-scale, the avenue trees in the garden suburbs form green fingers that connect the residential areas. On a macro-scale, the Kolenspoor will provide the green connection. This connection axis is important for the further elaboration of the larger bicycle network along the various mine sites from Beringen to Eisden. The exemplary character of the site lies in the combination of various uses and heritage value, with nature as a binding agent. Culture and nature flow smoothly into each other in the ‘Re natur’ story, in which natural vegetation is once more given opportunities within an urbanised-industrial context.
The mine site contains a variety of meeting places that strengthen social cohesion. The former mine director’s park is such an example that encourages interaction between people by transforming it into a public park. Beringen Mine has even more meeting places in its multicultural society. This way, the old and the new mine site will be connected to the ‘Kolenspoor’ landscape park. This green axis extends from the coaling harbour to the mine sites. Along the route, you will find various culture-related elements such as the Mine Cathedral, mosque, community centres, playgrounds, etc. Culture brings people together and can be enjoyed everywhere at Beringen Mine. The Casino, the ‘cultural temple of Beringen’ is a place of experience, situated along the green Kioskplein. Culture can also be found in the Mine Museum and the mine buildings, which have recently been brightened up with a flowery ‘mixed border’. The small slag heap as an observation point is the cultural ‘top of the hill’. This grey stone mass was transformed into a green landmark. You have a view of the mining heritage, the natural beauty of the large slag heap, and the green garden areas where you can relax together in the summer under the cooling foliage of the trees.
Diversity of life forms is important in an ecological system. Food supply and housing play a crucial role in this. For the insects’ food supply, we choose flowering trees such as Tilia, Acer, Sophora, etc. combined with flowering undergrowth. Flowering meadows were created in the open spaces of the Director’s Park and the ‘Kolenspoor’ landscape park. These locations are not only feeding places for insects but for birds and small mammals as well. In early spring, the food supply is further supplemented by thousands of flower bulbs in the Director’s Park and Kioskplein. Due to an adapted mowing management plan for the grasslands, the higher structure is the ideal hiding place for various smaller species. In addition to shelter, insects are given additional living accommodations in the form of ‘insect hotels’ and beekeepers can place hives in the Director’s Park. A ‘wadi’ was constructed along the Kolenspoor. This wet environment has a positive effect on plant and animal species that depend on a humid environment.
Together with Beringen Centre, Beverlo, Koersel and Paal, Beringen Mine is one of the five commercial centres of Beringen. Since the closure of the coal mine, the reconversion of the area has created a vibrant economy. A lot of attention has been paid to a green framework with positive effects on the general well-being. The approach is via a public-private partnership between the ‘Limburgse’ Reconversie Maatschappij and a private project developer. Under the name ‘be-MINE’, the area will be redeveloped for tourism and recreation, combined with urban functions such as living, working, and shopping. The recreational possibilities are many, with indoor activities such as indoor climbing, a swimming complex, or indoor diving among tropical fish. For outdoor sports and games, you can visit the adventure mountain with its playground landscape, mountain bike trail, and various hiking/walking trails. Cyclists will find what they’re looking for on the extensive cycling route network that includes the Kolenspoor. There is also a wide range of activities to offer at the Tourist Office; you can book overnight stays and be pampered with culinary delights here.
Nature is an important element in mitigating climate change with trees as top players. Every year, the town of Beringen plants several ‘climate trees’, about 300 of which have been planted in Beringen Mine during the last five years. The ‘Beringen Mine Master Plan’ provides for a further increase in the number of trees. Despite the positive impact of trees on the climate, they can also become victims of changing environmental factors. For example, they must be drought-resistant and have to fight harder against increasing insect infestations. The choice of trees is tailored to this, whereby the following species are used: Tilia, Liquidambar, Acer, Betula, Sophora, etc. In addition to a natural interpretation, a blue network is primordial. Sufficient groundwater buffering can prevent drought stress. Maximum rainwater infiltration was a major component of the construction of the Kolenspoor car park. Water-permeable clinkers were used; water is collected in perforated pipes and when the site is saturated, the excess water is discharged into a constructed wadi.
The Koolmijnlaan and its busy traffic forms a barrier between the old and new mine site, between the coaling harbour and the mining buildings. The ‘Kolenspoor landscape park’ with its bridge over the Koolmijnlaan removes this bottleneck. When combined with bicycle-safe crossings, this increases the general well-being for visitors and users. Cycling from the Albert Canal (coaling harbour), you arrive at the mine sites with the small slag heap, which has been transformed into an ‘adventure mountain’. Children can romp around, parents can enjoy the beautiful landscape, you can cycle your stress away on the mountain bike trail, etc. If you want to get a breath of fresh air, then a nature walk on the small or large slag heap is a great idea. The be-MINE reconversion project adds a number of other experiences such as swimming, indoor diving, shopping in the retail park, a climbing tower, dining venues, the be-MINE pit, and much more. A stay in Beringen Mine has a lot to offer for the extroverted visitor as well as for the introverted bon vivant.
The choice of plants is based on the suitability of the location. This isn’t always evident on the sandy soil of Beringen, which means that soil enrichment is required. The choice of plants strives for variety and diversity. Accessories when planting trees are chestnut poles, rubber gutter edges, and plastic plates for root guidance. Water-permeable materials are preferred for paving. The car park on the Stationstraat was constructed with permeable concrete clinkers. A footpath was constructed along the Kolenspoor cycle path using a naturally bonded, loose pavement (‘greenROAD’). The adventure mountain has a grid of wooden poles as a playing element. This symbolises the timber park where the timber supply used to be located in front of the struts of the mine galleries. You will find several information panels located throughout the mine site, which are all in the same corporate style. This corporate style is also extended to the remaining street furniture so that a visual theme is created. The most commonly used materials are weathering steel and wood, which suit the industrial look of the site.
The Beringen Mine site is the best preserved of all the Limburg mine sites as various buildings and open spaces were listed. Reconversion is possible, but with due care for the listed heritage. A unique example of reconversion is the transformation of the ‘thickening unit’ into an indoor diving centre with tropical fish. The Beringen Mine landscape is strongly dominated by two ‘terrils’ (residual coal slag heaps). The coal mounds evolved into green gems in which the small slag heap was redesigned as a playground landscape and the large slag heap encompasses an extensive natural value. You have a beautiful view over the landscape from the top of both terril peaks. The large terril offers you a 360° view of the surrounding landscape and – on a clear day – you can also see the other mine sites, such as Heusden-Zolder and Zwartberg. You can take a closer look at the landscape along the listed Kolenspoor, which leads you through coniferous and deciduous forests interspersed with open landscapes and residential areas. The Kolenspoor is like an open portal between the coaling harbour and the mine site. You can discover several elements linked to coal mining along the route. For example, the ‘claveauweg’ lies in an enclosed lane of red maples with an open landscape in the form of a flower meadow on the other side. You pass by the Beringen Mine cemetery and get a view of the various mine buildings and places of worship. The landscape varies greatly, from open to closed and back open. Coming from the canal, you only catch a glimp of the Mine Cathedral, but when you get closer, you have a full view of this beautiful building from the forecourt. The route then returns to an enclosed woodland area that ends with an open view to the heart of Beringen Mine. Where possible, we let the vegetation develop spontaneously, and other areas are pruned and mowed to preserve the view of the cultural heritage.
Impact on environment
The surroundings of Beringen Mine have changed drastically several times over the past 100 years. The original heath landscape became an industrial site around 1920. The reconversion of the area began in 1989 after the mine was shut down. Initially, the two terrils were remediated. The surface area of the small terril is 16 ha, while the total area of the large terril nature reserve is 60 ha. An important aspect of the remediation was to increase the stability of the subsurface and to make it accessible with a path structure. After remediation, the terrils were reclaimed by nature. The other zones had to wait quite a long time before they were reconverted. In the meantime, several phases of the reconversion project have been carried out, creating a new dynamic that is also noticeable in terms of mobility. In order to reduce the increasing traffic pressure, safe bicycle/footpath connections such as the Coal Track route will be used. The coal track is part of a larger network of coal tracks in the Province of Limburg. A strategic project was launched at the initiative of the province and the mining communities in order to give new meaning to the coal tracks. At master plan level, three strategic lines were set out with the coal track as an innovative mobility network, a nature-economic network, and as a meeting and experience space. The project was recognised as a strategic spatial lever project by the Flemish Government. The layout of the coal track in Beringen marks the start of the project on a micro-scale, which could one day become the west-east connection between Beringen and Eisden. In general, the reconversion attempts to improve the living environment for all organisms. This manifests itself in a pleasant environment for people with opportunities for living, mobility, and recreation. Examples of this are the retail park, the soft connection via the coal track, reconversion of mine buildings, etc. Plants are given new opportunities and are reclaiming the vacated areas, such as the terrils and the coal track. The creation of flower meadows and wadis increases diversity with a positive effect on wildlife finding food and shelter.
The innovative character of the project lies mainly in the search for an appropriate and sustainable reconversion of the rich mining heritage. Heritage value, reconciliation between old and new, modern trends and needs, new use of materials, etc. are taken into account. Technical transformations of buildings are, f.e., the conversion of the ‘thickening unit’ into a diving centre or of the electricity room into a climbing tower. Examples of transformation in the public space include the redesign of the small slag heap as a playground landscape or the conversion of the coal track into a bicycle connection axis. In addition to the green aspect, the project site is innovative in the sense of integrating existing green structures or offering nature opportunities again through ‘Re natur’ in an increasingly urbanised environment. Adapted management is sometimes enough to create a nice biodiversity story. Changing climatic conditions force us to be more creative in our search for suitable droughtresistant plant species. New species are introduced that are not allowed to be invasive. An inventory with an integrated management plan was drawn up for the management of the trees. Innovatively applied techniques include ‘plunging’, where extra air and nutrients are introduced into the subsurface. When applying paving materials, a lot of attention is paid to the rainwater infiltration capacity. Part of the footpaths were laid in a loose paving material, bound with a natural mortar. The car park on the Stationstraat was constructed with permeable concrete clinkers. The collected water can infiltrate into the subsurface via perforated pipes. When the saturation point is reached, there is an overflow to a wadi. All these measures ensure that rainwater remains on site as much as possible. In order to avoid a cacophony of different forms of information carriers and street furniture, a corporate style was developed in which wood and weathering steel form the basis and fit perfectly within the industrial site.