Legal bid launched to put brakes on controversial new French motorway

Ten organisations have clubbed together to file a complaint over the construction of the A69 between Toulouse and Castres

A number of protests have been held over the construction of the new motorway
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A number of ecological and local groups have banded together to launch a legal case against the construction of the A69 motorway in southern France.

They say the project will be disastrous for local wildlife near the 50-km proposed route between Toulouse and Castres.

“The Castres Mazamet area is not an isolated living area," said the lawyer leading the case, Alice Terrasse, before adding the motorway’s construction "affects hundreds of protected species, some of which are on the brink of extinction”.

A legal case against the motorway – surrounding the removal of trees on the road’s proposed route – was already thrown out in March.

The motorway has been the site of an ongoing battle between proponents of the new road - who say it will bring economic benefits to the area - and local and ecological groups.

In May, protestors blocking the beginning of construction were forcibly dispersed from their campsite by police.

Read more: Protests intensify over plans for French motorway extensions

‘Still time to suspend work’

Opponents of the road’s construction say that, despite preparatory work beginning on the road, there is still enough time to cancel the project.

“There is still time to suspend [the motorway’s construction],” said representative of the La Voie est Libre, Thomas Digard.

In particular, he points to what the group deem as “shortcomings and approximations”, in the public inquiry on the motorway, that should lead to the project being halted.

The group’s website claims building the motorway is an act of ecocide, as well as being “useless, imposed [on the local population] and unjust”.

Group lawyer Ms Terrasse says - even if the first legal bid against the motorway fails - “appeals [will be] far from exhausted over the matter, due to the motorway’s construction in protected strips of land.

“This is the real start of a fight that will continue until the project is definitively abandoned,” she added, estimating it will take the courts years to fully examine the case.

Government defends construction

For its part, the company behind the motorway, Atosca, said it is prepared to defend the road’s construction in court.

“In view of the commitments made in favour of the environment as part of its application, Atosca will provide all the necessary explanations and clarifications to the court,” it said in a press release.

France’s transport minister Clément Beaune, and the government as a whole, continue to back the plans, although back in March admitted they could make “a certain number of adjustments, improvements and adaptations” to make the motorway more eco-friendly.

A number of protests have already taken place on the site of the motorway’s construction, led in part by the soon-to-be-dissolved ecological group Soulèvements de la Terre.

In May, a number of protestors camping out on a preliminary worksite were dispersed, with one prominent activist arrested for refusing to leave.

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