‘Greater Paris’ plan given go-ahead by French government- transport project approved

March 8, 2013


Sarkozy ‘Greater Paris’ plan given go-ahead by French government
Hollande administration surprises many by approving transport project launched by predecessor that will link suburbs to capital

Kim Willsher
Guardian (UK)

The French government has approved an ambitious plan to extend Paris into the suburbs after months of speculation it would abandon the project.

The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said a massive new transport network that would link major banlieues (suburbs) to the capital – a key element of the scheme for a “Greater Paris” – had been given the go ahead despite a massive increase in costs.

Ayrault said the scheme, originally launched by the former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, showed “unprecedented ambition” and should be completed by 2030, five years later than planned.

He admitted it would cost far above the original €20.5bn (£17.8bn) budget, but insisted the money would be found.

“It needs this investment, which will be of benefit, directly and indirectly, to the whole country,” Ayrault said.

French presidents like to leave their mark on Paris. Most, like Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, stick to commissioning museums. Sarkozy, however, dreamed of a bigger and better metropolis with his “Le Grand Paris” scheme intended to transform the landscape of the French capital.

If chic Paris was reluctant to go to the gritty banlieue, then the banlieue would come to Paris, travelling on a multibillion euro high-tech transport system of driverless trains. No longer would Paris be defined and limited by its ring-road.

Instead the City of Light would radiate outwards, creating much needed jobs and housing.

Launching the plan in September 2007, Sarkozy said he wanted to create a “new comprehensive development project for Greater Paris”. The culture and communication ministry was tasked with organising a consultation process, involving international architects and urban planners.

But the plan quickly fell victim to criticism from those outside the consultation process and to political infighting within it.

The idea of creating a bigger, better – and in recent times a more inclusive – city, is nothing new. It has been an ambition of French leaders and officials from the time of Napoleon III in the 1850s.

Unfortunately, his chief architect, Baron Haussmann, was disillusioned by the political fight he had endured to integrate certain districts into the city and put a stop to the emperor’s ambitions to enlarge Paris to the east and west.

Even in recent times, the idea of “Le Grand Paris” has hardly been revolutionary. Paris has had an approved and regularly revised regional plan since 1939, and at least two organisations exclusively dedicated to urban planning in the Paris region, both of which were created in the 1960s.

When Sarkozy lost the presidential election to Socialist François Hollande last year, it was feared the whole Greater Paris scheme, as it became known internationally, would be consigned to the dustbin of thwarted political egoism.

On Thursday it was given a new breathe of life – though in what was a clear attempt to distance it from Sarkozy, Ayrault said the project had been renamed the “New Greater Paris” scheme.

Central to the plans is a high-speed transit network known as the “super metro” with 125 miles of new lines and 72 new stations, linking key suburbs and airports. Billions more will be spent on improving and extending existing metro lines.

In December, Pascal Auzannet, a former official with the RATP, the Paris transport authority, produced a report saying the scheme would cost €29.9bn.

But Ayrault said the final bill would be reduced by around €3bn by having smaller trains on some lines. Three quarters of the network will be operational by 2025, the rest five years later, he added.

Increased taxes on office and commercial premises and increased parking fines will be used to generate extra funding.

Rachida Dati, Sarkozy’s former justice minister, and a candidate for the mayoral election in 2014, criticised Ayrault’s announcement that there would be a new authority called the Paris Metropole, that would govern the enlarged city.

“It’s the division of responsibilities into smaller and smaller parts that paralyses the Ile de France,” she said. “Faced with insufficient housing and territorial inequalities, the prime minister’s only response it to create a new organisation.”

Employers’ organisation Medef said it regretted the rise in taxes on offices and shops, but Paris representative Jérôme Dubus said: “The finance plan seems credible to us. We are very satisfied that the government has relaunched this essential project for the attractiveness of the Ile de France (to investors).”


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