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Legal challenge to demolition plans

Vendée and Charente-Maritime homeowners group together to fight 'arbitrary' plans to demolish 1,400 properties

PROPERTY-owners in the Vendée and Charente-Maritime are planning legal action against the government over plans to demolish their homes as a flood safety precaution.

Demonstrations were held this weekend in a number of coastal communes affected by the compulsory eviction scheme, which has been unveiled after February's Storm Xynthia which killed 53 people.

A map detailing the 1,500 homes due to be destroyed has been attacked by locals and some mayors as "incoherent" and lacking any local consultation with those affected.

Almost 1,400 homes in the uninhabitable "black zones" will be destroyed - 600 in the Charente-Maritime and 800 in the Vendée. Landlords will get an average of €250,000 in compensation, at a total cost to the State of between €300m and €400m.

Hundreds of other properties are in "orange zones" and owners will have to wait until later this week to find out whether they too are affected by the demolition plans.

Charente-Maritime préfet Henri Masse and his Vendée colleague Jean-Jacques Brot have said the boundaries of the zones are non-negotiable and had been carefully drawn up by the government.

Mr Brot told the Journal du Dimanche: "The State is not doing this for the fun of demolishing homes or displacing people, but for their safety."

However the mayor of Charron, one of the Charente-Maritime communes hit by the flooding, is refusing to sign the papers agreeing to the demolition of 180 homes in his town.

Jean-François Faget told RTL that the plans drawn up by the State were "incoherent" and there needed to be more consultation at a local level.

Some 250 residents in Boyardville in the Charente-Maritime have formed a charity to begin a legal fight against the forced evictions.

A thousand people in Charron have signed a petition to Nicolas Sarkozy in protest at the plans, 350 demonstrated in Fouras at the weekend and a further 500 in La Faute-sur-Mer, one of the worst-hit areas.

About 50 residents in La Faute and neighbouring L'Aiguillon-sur-Mer have contacted a lawyer to begin collective action against the demolitions, which they say are "arbitrary".

Marie-Olivia Rocca, the president of a victims' group in Aytré near La Rochelle, told Métro that the maps had been drawn up "in haste".

"We will fight to the end," she said. "My house had just been built and was valued at €700,000 before the flood. We won't be going anywhere until we get compensation for this amount."

A couple living in L'Aiguillon-sur-Mer have also begun legal action against the mayor and his deputies for "endangering lives". They say they had written to the town council and the préfecture about the poor state of sea defences a year before the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Charente-Maritime president Dominique Bussereau has changed his mind over his proposal to put up local taxes by 6% as a "solidarity" measure to raise €8.2m for the repair and rehousing operation.

He said such a tax rise was likely to cause more anxiety among the population while the destruction of homes was still being discussed.

Related stories:
Natural disaster as storm kills 47
'Xynthia tax' for Charente-Maritime

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