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French Notre-Dame MP responds to restoration critics

The reconstruction of Notre-Dame after fire will be an “exemplary project” that will “not deviate from rules safeguarding heritage”, the MP in charge has said, responding to critics this week.

Cathy Racon-Bouzon, LREM MP, addressed several concerns and criticisms of the proposed project this week, as plans continue to rebuild the famous Paris cathedral that was partly destroyed by fire in April.

Criticism of the proposed rebuilding and restoration plans began after President Emmanuel Macron said that he would work to ensure the monument was rebuilt within five years.

Several heritage experts rejected Mr Macron’s claims - which were made just 24 hours after the incident - with many saying that this time constraint was too short for such a project, and had been decided upon apparently without any knowledge or investigation into the extent of the cathedral damage or its requirements.

An exemplary project

Now, Ms Racon-Bouzon has hit back at critics, saying that she will ensure “an exemplary construction project” and will demand a "very high level of excellence” during the entire process.

Heritage rules

Some critics have said they are worried about the government’s plans to push ahead with the project via “ordonnance” - meaning decisions pushed through parliament on issues such as urban works, environmental protection, and monument heritage - requiring exemptions and a bypassing of usual monument restoration channels.

The exact impact of this currently remains unclear, but Ms Racon-Bouzon denied any wish “to deviate from the usual rules of heritage safeguarding”.

She said: “[Any] exemptions would concern the surroundings of the cathedral and not the monument itself.”


Public funding

Official plans for the project also include a “national funding” pot for members of the public to donate to if they wish.

The government has confirmed that taxes on amounts up to €1,000 will be reduced by 75%, and 66% for amounts above this, until December 31 this year.

Recently, however, there have been considerable debates on the tax status of certain large donations, including those from high-profile companies and well-known wealthy families.

Yet, Ms Racon-Bouzon said that these questions did not align with current reality.

She said: “I am not at all comfortable with this ‘competition’ around philanthropic causes. I find it surprising that we are criticising both good and bad donors.”

The MP added that the question of how or where to spend the vast amounts of money promised by certain donors was not a “current concern”, as the money has not yet been paid.

She said: “Today, this is not a concern that we have, because we are talking about the promise of donations [only]. We cannot anticipate a reality that does not exist.”

Reconstruction debates

Although MPs will very likely not be the ones to decide on the precise details or design of the reconstruction, Ms Racon-Bouzon also addressed concerns over whether the project would “restore the cathedral to an identical state”.

She said the question was a “false debate”, explaining: “Viollet-le-Duc [the architect of the now-fallen spire, which was restored at Notre-Dame as part of a design competition held in 1844] constructed his spire, which was not on the original building.”

Ms Racon-Bouzon added: “It is also part of the history of cathedrals to be at the forefront of innovation.

"To say that today, we should be attached to an extremely conservative vision of what Notre-Dame once was...this may be the response, but it is not our job to [decide] to deliver that.”

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