AGORA – From remediation to provision of site services
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From remediation to provision of site services

In order to go from being a wasteland to an urban space that can be lived in and built on, former industrial sites must be cleaned up and then provided with utilities: a series of procedures in which AGORA is particularly expert. Meeting with three of the specialists who orchestrated these steps on the Belval site.

Nothing pleases Vanessa Villeneuve more than putting on her hard hat and construction site equipment: she loves field work more than anything else. A civil engineer from the Charente region, she is responsible at AGORA for taking charge of infrastructure projects as well as monitoring the remediation concept and the water management masterplan for Belval.

Remediation, a vast operation

The Belval adventure starts long before the creation of AGORA. As early as 1997, after the shutdown of ArcelorMittal's last blast furnace, the time has come for demolition and the first decontamination work on the site.  

It was in this context that, wearing her health and safety coordinator hat at the time, she became acquainted with Belval for the very first time.

Remediating with method

"AGORA was commissioned with overseeing the development of the remediation concept. It is a document that specifies the methods to be implemented by AGORA and by investors on the site in order to eliminate the impacts from former industrial activities.

The conclusions of a historical study allowed us to catalogue all the activities that could have generated potential pollution on the site. This study was the basis for a drilling campaign carried out in 1999. This work has enabled us to determine the types of pollutants, the volumes of polluted land and their locations, as well as the quality of groundwater".

"A map of the impacted sectors has been made, but already, we had to bear in mind the future evolution of the site: the future activities on the site have been matched with the characteristics of the subsoil, thus making it possible to define the different quarters.”

Vanessa was not yet an AGORA employee at the time the remediation concept was developed, but is now responsible for implementing it.

"The remediation concept was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment," says Vanessa Villeneuve. "This concept is covered by ministerial orders. The municipalities are also being consulted in addition to the ministries. ”

For Belval, "the concept is based on two fundamental principles. They aim to protect fauna, flora and groundwater from contamination. These principles, which are based on two remediation techniques, take into account the nature of the polluted materials as well as the future use of the land. This involves the technique of covering by future constructions and developments when the quality of the contaminated materials allows it, or the technique of extraction and relocation within the Belval site on the Saint-Esprit Plateau. In the long term, a clean-up project is planned. This technique consists in cocooning the polluted soil in order to isolate these materials and thus avoid the export of undesirable agents. ”.

Rigorous planning

AGORA's Urban Planning and Infrastructure Department team is in charge of drawing up the various urban planning documents necessary for the development of every urban project. Thomas Rau has been working in this field since 2003. He is from Germany and is a geographer, specialising in town and country planning. Together with his team of urban planners, architects and engineers, he is responsible for all planning and development operations.

Before building an underground tunnel, setting up networks or starting road works, urban planning documents are required.

"We need to prepare special development plans (PAPs). They define the urban planning regulations that will subsequently be imposed on the developer and investors. Each PAP must itself comply with the municipality's general development plan (PAG). As the site straddles the territories of the municipalities of Sanem and Esch-sur-Alzette, a special regulation was needed In Belval to enable the municipalities to draw up a joint PAG together - this is an extraordinary step, a real first in the country. This framework determines the density, the main roads and the land uses to be complied with. ”

With AGORA we wished to be innovative in this field. Beyond regulatory issues alone, we also decided to develop qualitative guides, "planning tools that go beyond the PAPs.” Its team worked with the municipalities to draft several recommendations applicable to each PAP. This is the case of the Landscape Manual, which defines the guidelines for the desired landscape". An Architecture Manual suggests the types of façades and preferred materials for the construction of the infrastructures and public spaces.”

"In the early 2000s, when we started working on the Belval site, it was still very rare to work with these manuals, which are intended to guide the work of any designer and builder working on the same site. AGORA has made Belval a pilot project geared towards the search for urban quality. We were ahead of our time. Today, the tools we have developed are being used by other urban developers elsewhere in Europe. ”

It's time to put in the services!

The remediation work has begun, the development plans are ready: it is time to put in the services. What else? This involves building general infrastructure to make the urban environment habitable," explains engineer Jean-Claude Huberty. Roads, public spaces, parks, drinking water systems, good storm water management, telephone networks and road grid construction are needed. Among other things! ”. Largely, facilities that are not visible but without which no neighbourhood can function, let alone live.

Jean-Claude is from Luxembourg and a civil engineer, and he keeps an eye on things. He keeps a very close eye on each phase of its projects: compliance with the remediation concept, conformity of the infrastructures with Luxembourg legislation, quality and conformity of the works and equipment.

In Belval, one of the major projects under his management was burying the high-voltage lines: the former ArcelorMittal plant operated with an overhead network that was incompatible with urban development. "We had to dig underground galleries and use some fairly unique cable supports, created in Switzerland," he says.

Anything else peculiar? We had to move railway tracks! "There was an inter-plant network, lanes that went through the plant and then around it. Of course, they had to be moved while avoiding disrupting traffic. A real challenge!" Our engineer was also very challenged by putting in place the grid of traffic routes: "We started from scratch with the aim of ensuring the flow of traffic on a site intended to welcome more than 30,000 people per day in the future; a huge scale for Luxembourg".

And then there are the pilot projects. Those that make you aware that you are at the heart of environmental issues and sustainable development. For AGORA, being involved in the construction of eco-friendly infrastructures has long since ceased to be a must-have. It's a necessity. In this area, Jean-Claude Huberty is particularly pleased with the district heating system that he helped set up. A network that supplies the Belval site by recovering heat from a power plant at the nearby ArcelorMittal plant. Energy efficiency? Not just that! There are no small savings for the environment.

This is how, thanks to AGORA's skills and know-how, a former industrial site is gradually being transformed into a quarter with innovative urban planning. A quarter where quality of life is combined with respect for the environment.

With the " AGORAMA " series, discover the AGORA know-how and how urban planners, landscape designers, engineers, geographers, economists, IT and marketing specialists think about the cities of tomorrow.

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