South-west France road project sparks huge environmental protests

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South-west France road project sparks huge environmental protests
Protesters take part in a soap box race as they march on an arterial road during a demonstration against the A69 highway project between Castres and Toulouse, near Soual, south-western France, on April 22, 2023. Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

A new road linking two towns in south-west France has become the latest environmental battleground, with thousands of protesters descending on the road site over the weekend.


The A69 linking Castres and Toulouse has been approved for several years and work has already begun - but on Saturday an estimated 5,000 protesters turned up at the site to demand the cancellation of the project.

Demonstrators said that the 53km road destroys precious natural habitat and is at odds with France's attempts to cut its emissions and move to greener forms of transport.

Despite warnings from the Interior Minister that "eco terrorists" were expected at Saturday's protest, the demonstration passed off peacefully. The demonstrators walked along the route with music and banners, held a soap-box race and built a symbolic 'wall' along the route.

Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

However, some environmental protesters have remained in the area and were quoted in French media saying that they intend to set up a permanent camp at the site.

Environmental protests at Saint-Soline, also in south-west France, against new water storage basins have been the scene of several violent clashes between police and protesters armed with molotov cocktails.

Several hundred people camped at the site. Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

The two towns are just 77km apart, but at present driving along the winding, single-lane road takes around 1 hour 20 minutes. The proposed A69 autoroute will cut between 15 and 35 minutes from the journey time.

To achieve this, 316 hectares of farmland will be sacrificed, and 200 trees cut down - a cost that environmentalists and some locals say is unacceptable.


Transport minister Clément Beaune said that France must "re-examine" many of its road projects, adding: "We must review a certain number of road projects. Some projects are disconnected, sometimes even the local elected representatives no longer want them, so those are suspended or even cancelled - it is out of the question to continue as before".

However, he said that the Castres-Toulouse road would not be one of those reviewed, because it has been through all legal and planning processes and work has already begun.

He added; however, that the government is looking at increasing taxes on motorway companies in order to finance investment n rail services - €100 billion by 2040.

"It is normal that the road and air sectors will finance the railways more."


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