Notre-Dames-des-Landes: fifty years of battles
The new airport project near Nantes has followed a very long institutional path enamelled by numerous confrontations in the field.
THE WORLD |
By Rémi Barroux
The Notre-Dame-des-Landes file is coming to an end. Opened fifty years ago, it is the oldest environmental conflict in France . The airport of the discord has become the symbol, for the defenders of the environment , of the “big useless projects”. Fifty years of struggle, of stagnation, of legal battle.
The 1970s: Concord and Decentralization
It was at the end of the 1960s that the idea of an airport for the West was born, as part of the decentralization promoted by the interministerial delegation to regional planning and regional attractiveness. Nantes Atlantique Airport (formerly Château-Bougon) is considered unsuitable to accommodate the millions of passengers expected. It is a question of transatlantic flights and to land the national flagship, the Concorde.
The first opponents created in 1972 the Association of Defense Operators concerned by the airport (Adeca). A small delegation goes to Orly (Val-de-Marne) to record airplane noises and collect testimonials from local residents. In January 1974, a prefectural decree fixed the deferred development zone (ZAD) which enabled the department to acquire some 1,200 ha (the total project area being 1,650 ha).
The 2000s: towards the decree of public utility
The airport project is put to sleep for fifteen years, because of the oil crisis and the arrival of the TGV to Nantes (1989). The idea of a third Parisian airport is promoted in 1994 and Notre-Dame-des-Landes remains in the race. In 2000, the project is reactivated by the socialist government of Lionel Jospin. In October, an interministerial committee decided to “build a new airport, replacing Nantes Atlantique, on the site of Notre-Dame-des-Landes” .
The appearance of sound exposure plans, prohibiting or limiting buildings exposed to aircraft noise, is contrary to the will of the mayor (PS) of Nantes, Jean-Marc Ayrault, to urbanize the island of Nantes. The latter is very attached to the idea of having an infrastructure equal to the major European airports. In December 2000, the Inter-communal Citizens’ Association of the populations concerned by the airport project (Acipa) was created.
In 2003, the advisory committee of the public debate is set up. Three years later, on the basis of the public declaration file (DUP), the public inquiry is organized . On February 9, 2008, the state signed the decree (for ten years) declaring public utility the construction of the new airport.
In 2009, is born the Collective of elected officials doubting the relevance of the airport (CéDpa). The summer of that year is held on the site referred a ” climate action camp “. In the wake, the first occupations are born and the ZAD is renamed “area to defend.”
The 2010s: “zadistes” against “legalistes”
In December 2010, Prime Minister François Fillon ( UMP ) signed the decree awarding the concession to the company Vinci, for a period of fifty-five years, the existing airports of Nantes Atlantique and Saint-Nazaire Montoir, as well as of the future Notre-Dame-des-Landes. The opening of the new site is scheduled for 2017. Vinci will be the victim of many actions throughout France.
Many appeals are filed by the opponents. The trials succeed and the legal battle will last for several years. In April 2012, two farmers, Michel Tarin and Gilles Denigot, went on a hunger strike in front of the prefecture of Nantes. François Hollande ensures that there will be no intervention on the area before the end of all appeals.
On October 16, 2012 in the early morning, the government of Jean-Marc Ayrault – Manuel Valls is Minister of the Interior – launches the operation “César” to evacuate the ZAD. But the violent clashes lead the government to suspend the operation. On November 17, tens of thousands of people demonstrate to reoccupy the area. A week later, the Prime Minister announced the creation of three commissions (experts, dialogue and scientists). In April 2013, the Dialogue Commission concluded that the project was valid, but called into question the compensation measures planned.
During the year 2013, the occupations multiply and many agricultural projects are born. On February 22, several tens of thousands of demonstrators, supported by some 500 tractors, parade in the center of Nantes. Violent incidents punctuate the event.
Trials and appeals continue to be chained. They are all lost by the opponents of the project. In January 2016, the district court of Nantes validates the expulsions of the inhabitants and farmers, historical opponents. Ségolène Royal, then Minister of the Environment, commissioned a study to the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development (CGEDD), which proposes, on April 5, two solutions: the airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes but with only one track on both planned, or the redevelopment of Nantes Atlantique.
On February 11, François Hollande proposes a local referendum. It will be held on the only department of Loire-Atlantique and will give, on June 26, the victory to supporters of the transfer of the airport to Notre-Dames-des-Landes (55.1% for).
In April, the European Commission classifies the dispute, initiated three years earlier, on France’s failure to comply with regulations on the environmental impacts of infrastructure projects. The administrative court of appeal of Nantes validates, it, in November, the prefectural orders – the Council of State is always seized of the recourses of the opponents.
2017-2018: the last consultations?
With the election of Emmanuel Macron in May, then the appointment of Nicolas Hulot – opponent of the airport project – at the head of the Ministry of ecological transition and solidarity, the suspense is revived. In a campaign promise, the Head of State announced that he will make a decision after having heard a final report. Three mediators are appointed on June 1 st . Mid-December, they make their work without taking advantage of the construction of the airport of Notre-Dame-des-Landes according to the initial project or for the redevelopment of Nantes Atlantique. After consulting local elected officials, the Prime Minister reiterates that the decision will be announced before the end of January.