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“This golf project seems offbeat to me”: Christophe Béchu takes control and summons the mayor of Villeneuve-de-la-Raho

Christophe Béchu not only came to talk about the water problem in the Pyrénées-Orientales with all the department’s elected officials and economic players this Thursday. The Minister of Ecological Transition took advantage of his trip to tackle the thorny issue of the Villeneuve-de-la-Raho golf course project head on.

Very early this morning, he spoke face to face with Jacqueline Irlès, the mayor of Villeneuve who passionately defends this issue came out of its land development idea in 2004, to develop 160 hectares of land or agricultural waste. “Given the current hydrological situation of the territory, this project seems out of step to me. Also in view of the emotion that this project arouses, and even well beyond the demonstration which took place last Saturday. This is what I explained to Madame Jacqueline Irlès who reminded me that this project was not only a golf course but also an urban development with a quarter of social housing,” reported Christophe Béchu, very invested in this delicate mission of taking the first steps to break the deadlock.

A high forest rather than greens planned

The minister gave himself fifteen days to move forward. He invited Jacqueline Irlès to meet him in his ministry office. To this undoubtedly decisive meeting, scheduled in two weeks, are invited the prefect of the Pyrénées-Orientales and the promoters of the concerted golf development company of Villeneuve-de-la-Raho, in other words the leaders of the GGL groups of Montpellier and Belin from Toulouse who are fully financing the construction site and are responsible for marketing. The latter have never expressed themselves on the subject other than by noting the various appeals filed before the courts. They are supported by the department’s economic players, the CCI, the Umih and the building federation, who are campaigning for the territory not to be penalized by a slowdown in investments.

The plan for the golf project in Villeneuve-de-la-Raho.  /DR
The plan for the golf project in Villeneuve-de-la-Raho. /DR

In two weeks, there will inevitably be a question of completely abandoning the golf component to launch the construction of 600 housing units. “A project to replace the greens with a tall forest may come up on the discussion table that day. These trees can achieve hydrological autonomy five years after the first plantings. It would be a clever way to break the deadlock,” explains a person close to the matter. This solution mentioned a few weeks ago was struck down by Jacqueline Irlès. “No golf means no hotel, nor the jobs that come with it. We definitely have a problem with economic activity in this department,” exclaims Brice Sannac, the departmental president of Umih who supports the project in its current scope.

An appeal by opponents under discussion in summary proceedings

The golf project was also the subject of a hearing this Thursday morning at the administrative court of Montpellier (Hérault). The appeal brought by different associations and an expropriated owner was under discussion in summary proceedings. Is the extension of the declaration of public utility signed by the prefect of Pyrénées-Orientales valid? For associations, it’s no. The hydrological situation has changed. “And above all, there are substantial modifications to the project as well as the amount of work. Juxtaposing farmers deprived of water and greens watered day after day is playing with fire,” argues Me Pons-Serradell for the Agissons 66 association.

“We are not going to open a public inquiry or write a declaration of public utility every two weeks,” replies Me Henri Gras, the investors’ lawyer. “The declaration of public utility is not an authorization for work,” explains the representative of the prefect for whom everything is in order and can move forward. The administrative judge will deliver his judgment this Friday, March 22 at the end of the morning. To illuminate, or not at all, the complicated path to the 18-hole golf course.

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