The increasingly contested extension of commercial zones

“An anachronistic project, outdated”, tackles the president of the Brittany region Loïg Chesnais-Girard (PS). Near Rennes, a project for a commercial area of ​​40,000 m2 and 1,400 parking spaces, called “Open Sky”, is almost unanimous against him: elected officials from both right and left, Chamber of Commerce, associations for the defense of the environment, Peasant Confederation. A petition has gathered nearly 7,000 signatures in a few weeks against this project which is to nibble 9 hectares of agricultural land. An aberration for environmentalists as global warming threatens to lower agricultural yields.


However, when Ikea was installed next door in 2007, at the edge of the Rennes-Saint-Brieuc expressway, there was “no problem”, assures Paul Kerdraon, mayor (various right) of Pacé. “There is a stronger citizen awareness than a few years ago”, advance Matthieu Theurier, elected ecologist, at the forefront of the subject. “The crisis of + yellow vests + is linked to this form of land use planning,” he said. Until then silent on the subject, the president of the Rennes metropolitan area Emmanuel Couet (PS) called in early February for the project to be abandoned. The promoter, the Compagnie de Phalsbourg, has not yet reacted.

Projects of this type exist all over France. In the Alpes-Maritimes, another “Open Sky”, of 100,000 m2 (including 60,000 m2 of commercial space), gathered 16,000 signatures against him and aroused criticism from the mayor of Cannes David Lisnard (LR) who denounced on Twitter ” the big nonsense “and the” trivialization of landscapes “.

85% of projects on the outskirts

In France, 5 million m2 of retail space are planned, including 3 million already authorized and 85% on the outskirts of cities, according to Procos, the Federation of specialized trade. “It is high time to ask questions” about this kind of project, believes Mr. Chesnais-Girard. “In the short term, it can bring in cash but in the long term, it destroys and damages our city centers.”

This is the case in Saint-Brieuc, where one in three businesses was vacant in March 2018, according to a count from the Journal des entreprises. In view of this desertification, the National Commission for Commercial Development (CNAC) refused at the end of December the extension of a commercial zone on the outskirts. “The CNAC wants to send a message to brands to tell them: we can no longer do anything,” explains Philippe Schmit, inspector general of the administration of sustainable development, and member of the CNAC.

In 2018, the latter thus refused 65% of the commercial surfaces offered (against 51% validated in 2017), an “absolute record”, motivated in particular by the launch of the government plan “Action coeur de ville”, which aims to revitalize the center – city of 222 medium-sized municipalities. But the movement has not affected the departmental commissions, which continue to approve more than 80% of projects, while the mayors are the sole decision-makers for stores of less than 1,000 m2, ie the majority of commercial surfaces.

Less expensive land

As for developers, they favor the outskirts, where land is cheaper and taxes often lower. “Trade still follows consumers and today the population is urban and peripheral,” said Gontran Thüring, general delegate of the national council of shopping centers.

European countries, such as Germany or the Netherlands, have adopted different strategies to preserve their businesses in cities. “In the United Kingdom, the law gives priority to setting up in the city center. To go to the outskirts, you first have to demonstrate that the city center cannot be restructured,” explains Mr Schmit. The ELAN law, promulgated in November, could make things happen: it gives the power to prefects to freeze the establishment of commercial zones and complicates the authorization process. “The promoters no longer dare to file a file”, laments the general delegate of the national council of shopping centers.

(With AFP)