Every year thousands of people make a pilgrimage to the D-Day beaches in Normandy to remember the Allied troops who landed there to liberate France from Nazi occupation.
Nearly 70 years after the assault that changed the course of the Second World War, however, the beaches face an invasion of another sort – wind turbines.
The plan to build a huge offshore wind farm within sight of land has upset veterans and their families and has triggered protests from environmentalists. But it is being welcomed by many local people because it would create thousands of jobs.
“The veterans don’t like this kind of thing,” said John Phipps, of D-Day Revisited, which funds and organises visits for British veterans who took part in the largest amphibious landing in history.
Signposts to the beaches still bear the code names used on June 6, 1944: Sword, Gold , Utah, Omaha and Juno. “It wouldn’t be quite the same with wind farms,” Mr Phipps said.
Seventy-five wind turbines, each nearly twice the height of Elizabeth Tower, would be built six to nine miles out to sea. Construction is to begin in 2015, a year after the 70th anniversary of the landings.
The companies leading the project – EDF, of France, Dong Energy, of Denmark, and wpd offshore solutions, of Germany – say that it would be difficult to move the wind turbines out of sight from the coast because the water is too deep and they would encroach on fishing grounds and shipping lanes.
“This is a sacred site that must not be spoilt,” said Admiral Christian Brac de la Perrière, the head of the official French D-Day Committee, the Comité du Débarquement de Normandie, which organises commemorations.
“Every year on June 6, we gather local schoolchildren on the beaches to make them feel what the young British, American and Canadian soldiers felt when they fought their way ashore,” he said. “How will they understand if they are looking out at wind turbines?”
Thousands of people have signed a petition initiated by the European Platform Against Windfarms, an environmental group that is lobbying Unesco to list the D-Day beaches as a World Heritage Site.
“This is a massacre of the beaches,” Jean-Louis Butré, the chairman of the organisation, said. “A former RAF group captain phoned me and said that if the wind farm is built, he would be prepared to bomb it.”
Last year the Government cancelled another wind farm project in Normandy on land just within sight of Mont-Saint-Michel, one of most popular tourist destinations in France, after Unesco threatened to suspend the world heritage status of the ancient abbey that stands on a rocky tidal island.
Public debates are being held in Normandy to discuss the £1.5 billion project, which was approved in 2011 by President Sarkozy. It was shelved in the run-up to elections last year, then revived by President Hollande.
One debate, in Arromanches on June 12, will be held in both English and French. The independent commission organising the meetings wants British veterans or their representatives to take part or make their views known.
A plan to build a wind farm on the site of a First World War battlefield in Loos, also in northern France, has been put on hold after public opposition.
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