Eco protest at Tropicalia greenhouse site in north France

The controversial Tropicalia site is set to be ‘the world’s biggest greenhouse’ and attract 500,000 visitors per year, but eco campaigners are not happy

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More than 200 people from 32 eco associations - including Greenpeace and green party Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) - have protested at the controversial “Tropicalia” greenhouse site in northern France.

The €73million Tropicalia project, near Berck-sur-Mer in Pas-de-Calais, is set to build the world’s biggest single-domed tropical greenhouse, covering over two hectares - or 20,000 square meters - in glass.

Expected to reach 32 metres high at completion, the dome will have a humid atmosphere with temperatures of 26-28C.

Designed by French architecture practice Coldefy & Associates in collaboration with energy company Dalkia, it is set to include a forest of tropical plants and trees, a waterfall leading to an Olympic-sized pool filled with Amazonian fish visible through an aquarium-style glass surface, a 1km walking route, and animals such as exotic reptiles, butterflies, and birds.

The site is also expected to include an auditorium, bed-and-breakfast accommodation, a bar-restaurant, a conference room, a scientific laboratory, and a clinic.

It is hoping to attract more than 500,000 visitors per year, and had been expected to open in 2021. However it has been hit by major delays, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

(Photo: Coldefy & Associates / Arch Daily)

It has also attracted controversy among eco campaigners; a group of whom mounted a protest at the site on Sunday December 20.

The 200-strong group included representatives from Greenpeace Lille, Attac, and Novissen, as well as green party EELV.

Jean-Michel Jedraszak, spokesperson of the group, told newspaper Le Figaro: “The Opal Coast does not need a tropical zoo under a dome. We are in an area with strong environmental issues, and we are only one kilometre away from the ‘Natura 2000’ site, and 550 metres away from a zone of flora and fauna deemed to be of ecological interest.”

The groups are also worried about the project’s plans to “artificialise” the surrounding ground, and pump water from the local water table.

Édith Chevalier, member of the countryside group Amis de la confédération paysanne, said: “This land could have been used for local agricultural activities. Also the promoter says that the dome will be heated using renewable energy, but the Terraotherm technology he is talking about is not yet proven in this region.

“Also, he will need two heat pumps, which will take from the water table, in a dense urban area where our water needs are high. All this to create a tropical space in a region where, from October to April, temperatures are on average 2-6C. It’s nonsense.”

'Completely false'

But the co-creators of Tropicalia dispute these claims.

Nicolas Fourcroy, a trained lawyer and co-partner in the project along with Cédric Guérin, a veterinarian, and Philippe Charrier, a construction specialist, told Le Figaro: “This is completely false, our technology has been tested and we will be independent in terms of energy needs.

“Our dome will allow us to use infrared from natural light to transform into heat. In good weather, we will produce too much, and we will re-route [this energy] to the hospital and psychiatric clinic nearby.

“We will use water from the water table, but only for our cooling and energy production systems, in a closed circuit.”

Mr Fourcroy also expressed scepticism at the demonstration from eco campaigners who had travelled from outside the region.

He said: “Local residents and politicians are excited about Tropicalia opening. Until this year, we had not had any particular opposition.

“The first public meeting took place on March 22, 2018 in Berck-sur-Mer, and our building permit was issued on November 24, 2019. Could the regional and departmental elections set for 2021 explain this sudden opposition to our project?”

He added that the region had invested €2million in the site as it is expected to create around 100 local jobs.

Didier Arino, a consultant who specialises in leisure parks at the tourism firm Protourisme, offered a measured response.

He said: “If Tropicalia enables a small number of people to discover plants and animals from the other side of the world, then that could be a good thing.

“But at what cost? This type of project can only receive a high level of support among the population if its promoters [manage to] show its environmental, social and economic value.”

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