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More ‘nasties’ in Nantes – and why it matters to us

This is a guest post by Madeleine Wahlberg.

The violent evictions continue as people – just like us – oppose the Nantes airport development. You can read the previous blog here: http://stophs2.org/news/6632-violence-nantes-farces-european-transport-megaprojects. The unnecessary mega project in the case of Nantes is an airport but there are still many common features with the HS2 megaproject, some of which I will draw out.

I made one mistake in the previous blog – the current rush to evict people in the proposed ‘development zone’ is because it is illegal to make anyone homeless in winter: and winter starts on 1st November. Actually, this only applies to legal landowners/ tenants and therefore does not apply to the small holders discussed below. Apparently they don’t mind being homeless in winter??

The longer term background of the Nantes situation has some lessons for us. The plan to build a second airport in Nantes as a freight hub for Europe (despite plenty of available capacity in the existing airport), started 40 years ago. Since 1974 the equivalent of the County Council has been buying every house and farm that came onto the market and leasing them out again where they could, or just leaving the land and houses empty. That is why four years ago the local residents in opposition to the airport invited people to live in the empty houses and to turn the abandoned farms into active small holdings. Everyone was incensed at the destruction of the local communities and at the waste of land and housing when so many people are in need of both.

It serves to highlight what some of our areas along the proposed route for HS2 could be like, particularly north of Birmingham which may be blighted for 30 years or more. The Kent communities warned us of exactly the same issue – that communities will really suffer degradation from blight. In Kent they had to bring in a special team of social workers in one area apparently to cope with community breakdown.

The aggressive police clearances of the last fortnight in Nantes have been directed to those small holders who were invited to work and live on the abandoned land. One of the aims of the political authorities has been to try to divide local people from these small holders. The result of what is called ‘Opération Cesar’ (burning and pillaging – geddit?) has in fact been to strengthen the links between different groups of opponents. There is massive support for the evicted small holders: people bring food, clothes, warm beddings, offer shelter or places for caravans, etc. There were about 150 small holders living in the ZAD (Zone to be defended) – since the evictions, there are now over 200!

The only people who are not being evicted from what the French government calls ‘the development zone’ are the tenants who were granted leases (often back on their own land) before 2008. This may sound a bit more just – but we need to be reminded of 2 things. Firstly, on eviction the French Government had been burning down the houses thus preventing any possibility for living in and farming those areas again if a court ruled that the eviction was unjust – or actually, if the finances are not forthcoming and the airport project is delayed or abandoned. The Government hadn’t even completed the EIA but were already evicting people and pulling down their houses. Secondly, last summer this same group of tenant farmers went on hunger strike to prevent their arbitrary eviction. After a big scandal the Government agreed that they would stop evicting these tenant farmers until at least all the legal procedures going through the courts had been cleared!! It took a hunger strike before the police stopped evicting these tenants.

So there is another thought for us. You will no doubt have read blogs and heard people saying ‘we should do it like the French or the Germans or the Chinese do it. Just get on with HS2’. That’ll be violent police evictions; burning houses; ignoring legal processes then? Or the use of water-cannon like that which shot out the eye of an elderly man in Stuttgart then? Hmmmm! Last week one of the leaders of the main action groups opposing the airport plan was peaceably filming the evictions. As she was doing nothing illegal, she was not willing to give the policeman the camera when he demanded it. So he grabbed her arm so strongly that he broke it. The Government is contrite and said that a respectable woman should not be treated in this way. Actually, that apology is still part of their attempt to divide the opposition into ‘criminal elements of young people’ (the small holders) and ‘respectable people’ (the rest). No one should have their arm broken by the police for upholding their right to bear witness. Not even if you are under 50 and look grubby!

If you can read French, you can read real time information on ZAD.NADIR.org.  On http://acipa.free.fr/ you will find press reviews and a blog written by a couple of the farmers living and working in the heart of the zone.

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