Planned Airport Site in France An Environmental and Political Battlefield
A scenic woodland in the western city of Nantes in France is the site not only of biodiversity and rich wildlife but of an environmental and political battlefield. A sizable area of humid woodland and hedgerow habitats, Notre-Dame des Landes is also the planned site of the city’s second airport. This proposal has local farmers, residents, and environmentalists from local areas and overseas up in protests for several reasons. The conflict with the local authorities and planners has sparked a series of forced evictions, stand-offs, and occupation of the site as a form of protest, The Guardian reports.
One major contention on those challenging the plans for a second airport lies in the fact that Nantes already has an existing, functional airport. Members of the Green Party in the government say that current airport is not at saturation point and has room for expansion, making the plans for a second one superfluous and unnecessary for those who are opposing it.
More importantly, the second airport is planned to be built on top of a thriving woodland, long inhabited by wildlife along with a couple of farmers and families who have lived in the area for several generations. If the city planners have their way, the project would equal an environmental disaster and a waste of taxpayers’ money especially during the time of ongoing economic crisis for those against the plans.
Plans for the second airport go back 45 years, the initial idea of which was an international air hub. At present, the €556 million airport project is targeted to open in 2017 and handle 9 million passengers a year by 2050. Socialists in favor if the project insist that is crucial for jobs and development of the city. The current Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says he is determined to go through with the project no matter what it takes. He was a former mayor of Nantes city and is reportedly facing record unpopularity according to the article.
But those defending the woodland site will not be persuaded by mere politics. For them, a bigger issue is at stake. Standing up in favor of the environment over controversial development projects has motivated farmers to go on hunger strikes and residents to stay in their homes even after being labeled as squatters for refusing to leave on orders. Activist also occupied tree houses and set up camper vans, tents, and makeshift cabins to deter clearing and construction.
In previous months, what a resident in the area calls ‘disproportionate force’ has been sent to force people out of the site. French riot police used teargas and rubber bullets on protesters, with many stand-offs ending in injuries. And yet the use of force have produced the opposite of the desired reaction and result, as thousands more ‘squatters’ sprung to occupy the site. For a tree house activist in Notre-Dame des Landes, occupation is the last line of defense against more urbanisation that would follow the airport construction. According to Julien Durand, a retired dairy farmer and one of the leaders in the opposition against the project, the airport is a prime example of what humans shouldn’t be doing anymore. More than increasing development and adding infrastructure, what is at stake is a wrong example for society – damaging the health of the local environment and adding to the worldwide burden of global warming.
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