Violence in Nantes and four farces of European transport megaprojects

This is a guest post by Madeleine Wahlberg.

Previous blogs on this site over the last 2 years have noted that despite MPs and others saying that everyone in mainland Europe is really happy with HSR, there is in fact a great deal of opposition. These opposition groups, including STOP HS2, regularly meet together and what is always surprising is how alike the imposed megaprojects (including both HSR and airports) are. We swap stories about ludicrous so-called ‘business cases’; about the low priority of HSR schemes that will absorb massive proportions of the investment funds; about environmental damage; and above all about the deeply anti-democratic ways in which these megaprojects are imposed.

In our opposition to HS2 we know about the farce that is democratic participation. We know about the farce that was the consultation; we know about the farce that is the Community Forum meetings – which reminds me of one of the most famous posters from 1968 Paris: It reads as follows:

I participate
You participate
He, she, it participates
We participate
You participate
They profit.


But will we also have to learn at first hand what many of the similar projects in mainland Europe have learned about, the farce that is a government agreement? It seems there are two phases to this: first the government (German, French or Italian) agrees that before a project is taken further (Stuttgart, Nantes, Susa Valley), there will be an independent study into some aspect that they have failed to consider up to now. In the second phase, they send in the police or army to clear the land for the development before that study has reported.

We have seen the horrific violence that this has involved in Stuttgart and in the Susa Valley – reported in earlier blogs here. Violence against people as well as destroying property. Last week we saw the same thing again near Nantes in France.

Nantes is the site of a 10 year struggle against a second airport. I won’t rehearse all the arguments against the airport in this blog – leave a comment if you would like to know more – but it is the usual story of no business case, no economic case, no environmental case, no money to pay for it – a desperately awful vanity project.

Yes, in Nantes there was a government agreement to undertake a study of the impact of the proposed development on the environment, particularly the swamp areas that could be impacted by changes to the water table. They didn’t know the answers to this and the government agreed that meanwhile they would stop the compulsory purchase of farms which included the immediate destruction of the old farm houses, because it was reasonable to suggest that if the development did not go ahead, returning farmers would need somewhere to live if they were to re-work the land.

Then last week on 16th October at 6.50am, Phase 2 (see above) of this agreement was implemented. Police cut off the whole area that they declared part of the development zone and put a chopper in the skies above. They then started to clear the area of inhabitants – about 100 people live in around 25 different parts of the area. The media were banished from the whole area (yes, this is the farce of ‘transparent government’) but the next day they could all see the burning roofs of the farmhouses. And what was the justification for this failure to keep to the agreement to wait for the environmental report before proceeding? Well it appears that from the start of November there is some legal requirement in France that forbids making anyone homeless in winter. So the violent evictions needed to happen before the end of October… report or no report, agreement or no agreement. As I said, the farce of a government agreement.

This takes us to another farce that we share across the European HSR projects – the farce that is a politician’s pre-election promise. In the case of Nantes, before his election the President of France (Hollande) said that he definitely opposed the Nantes scheme including on environmental grounds. However, it was he who supported the appointment of the Prime Minister of France (Ayrault), who is a past mayor of Nantes and is absolutely committed to the development. Holland did not seem to tell Ayrault to hold his fire last week, at least until the environmental issues had been reported on. So much for Hollande’s pre-election promise to protect the unique environment. And yes we all remember Cameron’s ‘greenest government ever’ promise that somehow doesn’t seem to apply to the largest ever spending on a single infrastructure project… The farce of a pre-election promise.

So what happened in Nantes last week is shocking. However, the opposition will come out of it even stronger because now right across Europe and North Africa far more people than ever knew about a proposed airport in Nantes are angry at what the French government is doing.  For those across Europe who are facing water cannon, tear gas, eviction, burned farmhouses etc – the transport megaprojects are rather unfunny because let’s face it, they are a farce.

8 comments to “Violence in Nantes and four farces of European transport megaprojects”
  1. It would be best for all concerned if they built the Intire length under ground it would solve a lot of problems for government and for the house owners along the route

      • If they can afford to waist public money on projects like this by cutting police nhs fire services then they should think about what else cut to build the project under ground or cancel venture untill they can afford to do job propley we can not afford to move but we are expected to find the money from some where so this project can go ahead

  2. Pingback: STOP HS2 | More ‘nasties’ in Nantes – and why it matters to us

  3. i believe the report will be published after 2015 as the government doesnt want to be accused of a u turn after they made it clear that they were against the third runway before the election.

    I am not convinced that the way to entice people out of flights is to offer a slower journey then that which hs2 could offer with the planned speeds. hs2 wont be running at full speed through the chiltern tunnels anyway. if journey time werent important people would already use the trains more.

    the case for transferring passengers to rail is however made more possible by having a direct connection within the airport. also as hs2 is built northwards cities such as leeds newcastle and eventually glasgow edinburgh come within the 3 hour point where hs takes passengers from air. given the cost and disruption of hs2 we need to take full advantage of hs2 and with a dedicated heathrow station interlining flights can be replaced with trains.

  4. Molly , the Davies findings will be released in 2015, after the next election. That’s the point. That allows the Conservatives to go into the next election campaign and when asked about Heathrow expansion simply say “we have to wait for the Davies report”. Of course there might be a few leaks before the election which could make the politicians squirm a bit but it is still a bit of a political masterstroke albeit a little cynical to dodge an issue on which they are on a hiding to nothing.

    As it stands at the moment there is a very strong argument for HS2 to stop at Heathrow. That is the model generally used on the Continent, and is what Labour were arguing for last year. That would point towards an M40 route and was one of the reasons why an M1 route was ruled out.

    Of course if Heathrow were to close that argument falls away. Dominic Grieve ( MP for Beaconsfield ) goes a bit further and says that he doesn’t think there will even be a spur to Heathrow at stage 2 ( in 20 years time ) unless another runway is built at Heathrow. Either way it seems the “cart” of HS2 route is being put before the “horse” of hub airport location.

  5. does anyone know when the report that the government has commission into Heathrow expansion – the Davies report – is due to be completed and made public?
    Presumably it will change the business case for HS2 if expansion is decided upon. I would have thought that lower speed trains linking London – Heathrow – Birmingham would make more sense for everyone – greener too. So what if the journey time is 20 minutes longer – people might be able to afford the tickets and put up with the extra journey time….

    • Hi Molly

      Hope this helps—

      The Commission will:

      examine the scale and timing of any requirement for additional capacity to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub; and
      identify and evaluate how any need for additional capacity should be met in the short, medium and long term.
      In doing so, the Commission, will provide an interim report to the Government no later than the end of 2013 setting out:

      its assessment of the evidence on the nature, scale and timing of the steps needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status; and
      its recommendation(s) for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next five years – consistent with credible long term options.
      The Commission will then publish by the summer of 2015 a final report, for consideration by the Government and Opposition Parties, containing:

      its assessment of the options for meeting the UK’s international connectivity needs, including their economic, social
      and environmental impact;
      its recommendation(s) for the optimum approach to meeting any need;
      its recommendation(s) for ensuring that the need is met as expeditiously as practicable within the required timescale; and
      materials to support the Government in preparing a National Policy Statement to accelerate the resolution of any future planning application(s).
      A decision on whether to support any of the recommendations contained in the final report will be taken by the next Government.

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