Wauquiez withdraws its region from “Zero net artificialization”, attracts indignant reactions

The President of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Laurent Wauquiez (LR), September 16, 2022 in Vichy (THIERRY ZOCCOLAN / AFP/Archives)

The President of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Laurent Wauquiez (LR), who is making his national political comeback, threw a wrench into the pond on Saturday by announcing the withdrawal from his region of “zero net artificialization” (ZAN), a device which aims to stop the concreteization of soils in 2050, attracting political wrath beyond environmentalists.

“Fighting against the artificialization of land is not an option, it is an imperative, to fight against global warming and its consequences”, was quick to tackle the Minister of Ecological Transition and Community Cohesion. Territories, Christophe Béchu on X (ex-Twitter). Questioned by AFP, the Secretary of State for Biodiversity, Sarah El Hairy (MoDem), rejected Mr. Wauquiez’s comments as “deeply populist”.

The Climate and Resilience law, adopted in 2021, entrusts the regions with the task of setting an objective for reducing the concreteization of land through their planning document (Sraddet).

The goal is to halve, by 2031, the consumption of natural and agricultural spaces compared to the previous decade, until reaching “zero net artificialization” by 2050, and to no longer concrete of floors at all unless “renaturing” equivalent surfaces.

The regions will have to distribute the reduction effort between the different zones of their regional perimeter, from the territorial coherence plans (Scot) at the department level, to the local urban planning plans (PLU) and municipal maps.

“Putting building permit decisions on rural areas under wraps means that we are denying ourselves any form of future (…) I have decided that the region is withdrawing from the process. We are doing this in conjunction with the departments”, launched Mr. Wauquiez in Alpe d’Huez (Isère), to the applause of members of the Association of Rural Mayors of France (AMRF) gathered in congress.

“This ‘ruralicide’ law is really the incarnation of an administrative technocracy which consists of applying the same rule in a very uniform manner across the entire territory,” he told AFP. “We have people who will be on land where normally they can build and where we will tell them ‘you will not have your permit’. This will create considerable resentment and anger,” he added, estimating that we must “start from the proposals of the Senate”, which has already relaxed the application of the text, to “remake the law”.

Laurent Wauquiez, who has presidential ambitions for 2027, will be in Valence (Drôme) on Sunday at the Young Republicans campus.

“Against each other”

“The president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is disengaging from the ZAN, even though an agreement has been reached with parliamentarians (…) to improve this system in collaboration with the AMF (. ..) To believe that, according to him, the law applies selectively,” Christophe Béchu reacted to AFP.

“Rejecting the ZAN amounts to refusing to protect agricultural land (…). Refusing the ZAN also means ignoring the need to preserve natural spaces, which shelter rich biodiversity and contribute to carbon storage,” added the minister, accusing the boss of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes of “playing the territories against each other”.

“The government must put a stop to the separatist and ecocidal attacks of Laurent Wauquiez,” reacted in a press release the Ecologists of the AuRA region, for whom “taking the region out of the ZAN objective means abandoning the mayors rural communities, leaving them without solutions in the face of concreters”.

“Zero net artificialization is not a fad (…) it’s a law,” insisted Sarah El Hairy, interviewed by AFP at the MoDem back-to-school days in Guidel (Morbihan).

Rapporteur of the Climate and Resilience law in 2021, Renaissance MP Jean-René Cazeneuve believes that “this reaction shows the narrow path between a climate-skeptical right and a punitive ecological left”.

After an initial round of applause, rural mayors showed more cautious reactions. “Is it the State that should take control? Complicated for everyone, this application of the law,” judged Sébastien Gouttebel, mayor of Murol (Puy-de-Dôme).

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