Thousands of protesters in the south of France this weekend marched against controversial proposals for a new motorway, the A69, which would link Castres to Toulouse.
Organisers say there were 8,200 people (versus authorities’ estimates of 4,500) on Saturday (April 22) and Sunday (April 23).
The march went through the region’s natural reserve in Cambounet-sur-le-Sor (Tarn), before heading down the RN126.
Protesters even began to build a wall on the road.
The argument for: ‘It is a question of economic survival’
Proponents of the 53km-long motorway, including MP Jean Terlier, have said “it is a question of economic survival” for the south of Tarn.
They say it will be a key connection and will reduce journey times by 25 to 35 minutes.
The road will build on existing routes, widening certain sections. It will take 300 hectares of land to complete (although this has dropped from the 400 hectares initially planned).
France’s energy transition minister, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, insists the government has considered the environmental impact.
She told RMC: “Every time we do an infrastructure [plan], we do an analysis of the environmental impact of the project.”
Meanwhile, Bernard Carayon, mayor of the Lavaur commune, said the motorway will create 1,000 jobs directly, with more indirect jobs to follow.
He criticised opponents of the project that "is now the subject of a political consensus except on the far left" and which has the support of "economic players, a very large majority of farmers and citizens, 75% in favour according to a recent poll".
The argument against: ‘Project is archaic and it will destroy the environment’
But protesters claim that it is environmentally damaging. One protester, Aline, who is a member of the La Voie Est Libre campaign group, told FranceInfo: “This project is archaic and will uselessly destroy the environment.
“It’s a symbol of decision-makers' inaction on climate change.”
Protesters are also unhappy with the suggested €17 péage charge for a return journey on the new route, which they have called a “racket”. Campaigners are also calling for improvements to be made to the existing road instead of the construction of a new one.
The project has been debated since the 1990s, but opposition to it has been growing louder in recent years, particularly with the support of the environmental campaign group les Soulèvements de la Terre.
This campaign group made headlines after its protest at the Sainte-Soline reservoirs in western France.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called for the dissolution of this group following clashes between protesters and police at the demonstration.
This weekend, one of the group, Gilles Garric, said ironically: “We would like to thank our PR manager, Gérald Darmanin, who has played a big part in the success of this weekend.”
Organisers said the protest this weekend was “a historic movement” and promise they “will not stop there”.
The protest attracted several high-profile protesters, including Christophe Cassou, climatologist and co-author of the most recent IPCC report. He said he came from Toulouse to offer “moral support” to the protesters, in an “urgent” move that showed the “gravity” of the situation.
He said that France was not close to reaching its climate change goals, principally because of farming and road traffic.
He told FranceInfo: “Building a motorway when we should be massively reducing our transport greenhouse emissions is nonsense.”
Green MP Sandrine Rousseau was also present. She said: “It’s urgent to take into account the climate change constraints. We’re making people believe that they can just keep using their car as they did before; it’s dystopian.”
La députée EELV Sandrine Rousseau a fait le déplacement.— Thomas Baïetto (@ThomasBaietto) April 22, 2023
"Aujourd'hui, ce n'est plus possible de construire des routes et des autoroutes, il faut un moratoire. Penser le désenclavement par la route, c'est dépassé, on met les gens dans un piège" #A69 pic.twitter.com/N65fsV09Du
Protesters say that the movement will continue, although no dates have yet been announced.
Les Soulèvements de la Terre wrote: “We will announce more gatherings and protests. We will continue to fight until the project is rescinded.”
The group is now pushing for a ‘cancellation’ of the project due to environmental authorisation. Organisers say that the road has “no serious arguments” to back it up.
What do you think?
Do you think the motorway is vital for economic survival? Or do you agree with environmentalists who oppose the project?
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