French government cancels Grand Ouest project

18 January 2018
Protestors against the new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, pictured on 17 January 2018 after the French government announced it was scrapping the project. Source: Getty

The French government is scrapping controversial plans to build a new airport to serve Nantes in western France, after strong (and occasionally violent) opposition from local activists and environmentalists.

The government began to consider a new airport for Brittany in the 1970s, with the potential to host trans-Atlantic Concorde flights – but the announcement by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe on 17 January appears to have killed the Grand Ouest Airport project.

In 2000, the government announced plans to build a greenfield replacement for Nantes Atlantique Airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, 20 km north of the city and 35 km south of Rennes.

Formal approval followed in 2008. A 55-year management and development concession was awarded to the VINCI Airports-led Aéroports du Grand Ouest consortium, which also includes the Nantes Chamber of Commerce and Industry and industrial development group ETPO-CIFE.

Having pulled the plug on Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the government must now consider paying compensation to VINCI Airports. This could reach EUR350 million (USD428 million).

The original plans, for two runways and a terminal on 1,450 ha of farmland at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, were scaled down to a single runway and 900 ha. The terminal would have had capacity for up to nine million passengers per year. Surface access to Notre-Dame-des-Landes would have included a dual-carriageway road and a rail link.

Preliminary work on the site began in 2012 but barely any progress has been made because of the strength of opposition – local residents, farmers, and environmentalists confronted police on a regular basis, and protests sometimes turned violent.

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