Unesco has called on France to suspend all plans to build a series of vast wind farms within sight of one the country’s top landmarks, Mont St Michel, saying they will spoil the unique sea view.
The UN’s cultural agency made the formal request following an earlier warning that the spectacular Benedictine abbey on a rocky island off Normandy could lose the world heritage status it has enjoyed since 1979 if it fails to comply.
Mont St Michel, population 43, annual visitors 3 million, is the most visited site in provincial France due to its unique eighth century abbey stretching up into the clouds atop a granite pinnacle.
Light pollution from the 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 to build 11 projects on this stretch of coastline.
In at Unesco’s annual meeting in Paris, which ended last week, the heritage site committee unanimously agreed to ask for wind farm projects to be suspended until a report on their pact on the view is completed – probably by next year.
The body called on France to suspend all projects, planned or approved, and recommended it “put in place a plan to manage the view around the Mount” excluding all construction of wind farms “visible when one looks at the site” and “visible from the site”.
Several wind farms are up for construction in the coastal area on the border between Normandy and Brittany. One project Argouges, in the Manche area, has been given the green light by local authorities to install three turbines of about 110 yards high some 10.5 miles away.
On a clear day, one can see twice that far from Mont Saint Michel.
Another project at Côté Ille-et-Vilaine, some 15.5 miles away, for four turbines towering 459ft into the heavens received local approval in May, after an environmental committee said the wind farms would be “difficult to identify given the tiny size of the objects appearing on the horizon”.
Europa Nostra, an NGO which coordinates 250 European heritage defence groups, said the turbines would “degrade an immutable and unique landscape”.
The group’s spokesman, Laurie Neale, said: “People go to see Mont Saint Michel because it’s this time capsule into the past. It’s a place of meditation, of spirituality, and if you are looking out at these endless mudflats on the bay and suddenly see these windmills going around in the distance, it kills the atmosphere.” A £160-million project is currently under way to flush sediment from around the currently landlocked monument and turn it back into a tidal island by 2015, as it was last century.
“It makes no sense to spend zillions on that and on the other hand put a big blot on the view,” said Miss Neale.
Unlike Britain and Germany, France has no large offshore wind farms.
President Nicolas Sarkozy recently announced a 10 billion-euro plan to build five giant rows of generators off France’s western coast from 2015.
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