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Controversial new motorway project resumes in southwest France

The transport minister said the majority of local ministers are still in favour of the project, despite significant protests from environmental campaigners

A view of a motorway with signs to Castres, Toulouse, and Carcassonne

The new road will run between Toulouse and Castres, but it has been the subject of controversy for decades Pic: Spech / Shutterstock

The controversial A69 motorway project in southwest France has restarted today (Monday, October 16) and the government has pledged to “take it to its end”, despite debate around its environmental impact.

The 53 km stretch of motorway was the subject of a meeting between environmental associations and councillors in the affected areas on Friday, October 13.

The new motorway will run parallel to the current Route nationale and cut through 300-400 hectares of farmland.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune said that a “very large majority” of the councillors reaffirmed their support for the project at the meeting. He said that the road will “respond to the local needs” that were identified during a “comprehensive” consultation on the topic, during which “all options” were studied.

A court recently rejected a request to suspend work on the project, he added.

Mr Beaune called for “responsibility” among groups who object to the plans, and asked that they “respect the legal and democratic decisions” that have been made. The ministry will “not tolerate any violence or incitation to violence”, he said.

However opponents now say they will hold an onsite protest against the project on October 21 and 22.

Read more: Violence fears ahead of protests over new motorway in southern France 
Read more: Legal bid launched to put brakes on controversial new French motorway 

Environmental protesters 

It comes after militant environmentalist Thomas Brail and other protesters to the motorway project called off their hunger and thirst strike on October 10, after a meeting was announced between the respective prefects of the Occitanie region and the Tarn department.

It is not clear if Mr Brail and other opponents will now continue their strike or mount another protest against the continuing work.

In October last year, one protester told the press: “This project is an ecological aberration. We are destroying 400 hectares of farming land at a time when we’re dealing with issues of climate change and food supremacy.”

Another activist said that the motorway was “unfair” and would only benefit the richest in society. He said: “Those who have the means will pay €14 to come and go more quickly.” (Use of the road could cost up to €14 in tolls.)

Disagreements and divisions

The project was declared a project of ‘public utility’ in 2018 but has since been the subject of more than 500 public meetings. It has been discussed for 25 years.

And despite Mr Beaune’s assertions that “the majority” of locals are in favour, there are some notable exceptions.

One mayor, Sabine Mousson of Teulat (Tarn), told France Bleu Occitanie: “I don’t want people to explain the work to me anymore, I want people to listen to me. I’ve been fighting against this project for 10 years.”

There were other divisions too.

Didier Cujives, president of Haute-Garonne Tourisme, claimed that Pascal Bugis, the mayor of Castres (Tarn), left the room once he realised that there were “representatives against the project”.

Christine Arrighi, MP for Haute Garonne, said that she did not approve of this attitude. She said: "When you're mayor, you represent the whole population. You have to listen. As far as he's concerned, the case is closed.”

And yet, some did reconfirm their approval. 

Mayor of Puylaurens (Tarn), Jean-Louis Hormiere, said: “[The meeting] went very well, it was a conversational meeting. I fought for this motorway, I took part in the consultation in 2015. It's obvious that people need this motorway.”

He believes that “those in the Tarn are for it, those in the Haute-Garonne are against it”.

In April this year, the mayor of Lavaur (Tarn), Bernard Carayon, said the motorway will create 1,000 direct jobs, with more indirect jobs to follow.

He criticised opponents of the project, saying that it “is now the subject of a political consensus except on the far left”. He said it has the support of "economic players, a very large majority of farmers and citizens, 75% in favour according to a recent poll”.

Critics of the road say that instead of the new motorway, the existing Route nationale should be revamped. This idea, they say, has been studied and deemed viable by consultancy Burotec.

Related articles

Protests against new motorway plan for southwest France
Controversial new A69 motorway in southern France: What do you think? 

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