A multi-billion-pound plan to erect vast wind farms off France’s Atlantic coast could cost one of the country’s top landmarks, the Mont St Michel, its coveted title as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The UN body has ordered France to provide details of plans to build three towering wind turbines off the coast of Normandy. Critics say that given their size – two thirds the height of the Eiffel Tower – the turbines will blight the view from Mont St Michel, a rocky island whose 8th century abbey stretches up into the clouds atop a granite pinnacle.
Mont St Michel, population 43, annual visitors 3 million, is the most visited site in provincial France.
Light pollution from the offshore electricity generators will turn the medieval pilgrimage site into a “Christmas garland”, according to Environment and Landscape, an environmental group. It is one of several pressure groups that complained to UNESCO about the plan – one of seven possible projects involving 31 wind turbines on this stretch of coastline.
UNESCO has declared it is “concerned about the potential impact of the wind farms on the landscape of the site.” On Monday, France handed UNESCO a report on its plans. In June, the body will decide whether to review Mont St Michel’s world heritage status, which it earned in 1979.
A UNESCO spokesman said that while it may dismiss the issue or call for modifications, “nothing rules out” the landmark being declassified – a rare move that has only ever happened twice: to the Arabian Oryx sanctuary in Oman in 2007 and the Dresden Elbe valley in 2009.
Jean-Baptiste Godment, who runs Epuron, the company due to implement the wind farm, said: “Of course we won’t put the Mont St Michel’s (UNESCO)
ranking in danger.” “I really doubt that the question arises with (just) three 100 metre-high wind farms some 20km from Mont St Michel.”
The company won two previous court cases against the project, which concluded that nothing in the dossier suggested it would be “visible” from the site’s “most frequented high points”.
Unlike Britain and Germany, France has no large offshore wind farms. Last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a 10 billion-euro plan to build five giant rows of generators off France’s western coast from 2015. Two of these are off the north Norman coast, two off the Breton coast and one off the D-Day beaches of Juno and Omaha off northeastern France.
The choice of the latter site, 11 kilometres off Courseulles-Sur-Mer (Juno Beach), has raised hackles among veterans and environmentalists.
Admiral Christian Brac de la Perrière, the president of the Comité du Débarquement, the official French body for commemorating D-Day, described it as “inappropriate and incoherent”.
Jacky Bonnemains, president of Robin des Bois (Robin Hood), a militant French ecological group, said: “I find it extraordinary no one in government grasps that this will change forever the character of a place of sacred memory. They just don’t seem to care.” The seascape would be “desecrated” as a result, he warned.
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