Why a commune in France is spending millions demolishing villas

Land will be returned to ‘natural state’ to prevent future flooding

The demolition of homes will be finished early next year
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A commune in the south of France has spent over €4 million to purchase a number of villas in the town – only to demolish them directly after.

The properties, some of which have been affected by flooding, can cost up to €870,000, but include up to 2,000 m² of land alongside the villas themselves.

They are not being bought solely for their land, however, as new buildings will not be erected by the commune of Mandelieu-la-Napoule (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) on the sites.

Instead, the land will be used to create gardens, natural parks, leisure areas for the citizens, or even mini farms.

The reason for this is to decrease the risk of flooding in the commune, by returning the land to a natural state and increasing the permeability of its soils during heavy rainfall.

Funding for the project is being fronted by local authorities and the national government, with additional money coming from the Barnier fund, which provides aid to schemes that reduce the effect of natural disasters in France.

Area suffered two large floods

The commune was affected by major flooding in both 2015 and 2019, which included damage to some of the buildings purchased by the local council.

The damage from flooding was further increased by the urban nature of the commune, with the number of villas in the commune limiting the amount of natural, untouched land with soils that could soak up rainfall.

Any of the future ideas for the structures – demolition of the five villas already purchased should be finished in “early 2024,” says mayor Sébastian Leroy – will see minimal construction on the land, providing as much space as possible for the natural landscape to return.

Prices offered are ‘fair’

The commune plans to purchase more properties in time, allowing as much land as possible to return to its natural state.

However, they have only so far been able to purchase 5 properties – and around 6,000 m² of land – despite the acquisition of funding.

This is due to many residents whose properties could be purchased being reluctant to sell, for a combination of factors including sentimental value and financial concerns.

Some believe that the authorities will try to purchase the properties at knock-down prices – especially those that were affected by the previous flooding.

The mayor is keen to assure residents, however, that a fair price is being offered, and in the case of properties affected by flooding, the purchase price will be from prior to its damage.

It is not the first innovative project by the Mandelieu authorities this year: in the summer, they used natural colourings to ‘paint’ barren grass green with an algae dye and help it regrow despite drought conditions.

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