Image Source: https://www.theguardian.com/
Protesters in Paris are celebrating having saved more than 40 trees – one of them over 200 years old – from being chopped down or threatened with damage around the Eiffel Tower as part of a €72m scheme to create a huge garden.
Paris’s city hall has been forced to row back on plans to clear the area around the structure on the Champ-de-Mars to improve access to the tower and make the traffic-clogged area greener in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
After weeks of protest including a hunger strike, Paris officials initially said they would consider the fate of the trees on a “case by case” basis. Now they have conceded that the “extreme sensitivity” of cutting the trees down has persuaded them to abandon the idea altogether.
The plan to redevelop the area round the Eiffel Tower, a plank of mayor Anne Hidalgo’s re-election campaign in 2020, was drawn up by American architect Kathryn Gustafson, of the London-based firm Gustafson Porter and Bowman, who won the planning bid.
It involved banning vehicles except public transport from the nearby Pont d’Iéna, as well as creating paths, cycle routes and a series of parks to restore the area to visitors.
However, critics were outraged to discover it also meant cutting down 42 well-established trees and threatening the root system of a magnificent plane tree near the foot of the Eiffel Tower, one of hundreds planted all over France in 1814 on Napoleon Bonaparte’s instructions.
For the last week, protestor Thomas Brail, founder of the National Group for the Surveillance of Trees (GNSA), has been attached to the 208-year-old plane on a hunger strike over threats to the trees.
Planners and architects have now told officials it will be impossible to install a proposed new ticket office for the estimated 21 million annual visitors to the Eiffel Tower, as well as two buildings containing lavatories, souvenir shops and food takeaways, while respecting the regulatory minimum 6-metre distance from the trees.
Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of urban planning and architecture, said the whole plan would now have to be completely revised to avoid impacting on the trees.
Opponents and campaigners said they would go ahead and lodge formal opposition to any building permits this week “as a precaution”.
Pierre Lamalattie, a member of the Friends of the Champ-de-Mars, said Bonaparte ordered the trees to be planted across France to shade marching soldiers from the sun, and the oldest one threatened is thought to be the last of two rows of plane trees to have survived over the centuries.
“Unfortunately, the only way to know its precise age would be to cut it down,” Lamalattie said.