"Grand Paris" begins at "Le Bourget"

Le Bourget airport is known internationally. However, it stands on land that has been too long forgotten by the public authorities – disfigured by motorways and pollution from the chemical industry. Yet, times are changing: several elected officials have been fighting to build new railway stations and an aeronautical cluster on and around the site. It seems there may be hope on the horizon. Everyone now agrees on the development of a Grand Paris economic centre for the aviation industry based at the airport and its museum.
The multifunctional station at Le Bourget and the architectural project’s vision. / DR

It is small. Some would say tiny. One of the smallest urban communities within the Metropolis: three communities and 90,000 citizens. The area is ugly and scarred. Lacerated by motorway and railway infrastructure throughout the entire zone. And it does not stop there. The whole area is polluted by trucks lined up on the RN2 (the old road to Flanders), and even more so by chemical industry containers heading to the landfills in Drancy. A community forgotten for decades by its elected communists - more concerned by their May Day festival than urban planning. However, as ugly and forgotten as it may be, this area certainly has great potential for economic development within the Parisian region. And it would seem that people are now starting to believe it. Its future is in its name: Le Bourget airport urban community. The airport itself is both its identity and its opportunity. And between the leading business airport in Europe and its upcoming three new Grand Paris railway stations, there is every reason to believe the area will reap the benefits of this new scheme.

However, steps continue to be taken very cautiously. When Nicolas Sarkozy launched the Grand Paris project, nothing was really planned for Le Bourget. And so Vincent Capo- Canellas, the town's UDI senator-mayor, decided to lead discussions on a shared development strategy: Le Bourget, Drancy and Dugny, La Courneuve and Le Blanc-Mesnil are all associated with the development of the airport. These Seine-Saint-Denis communes have employed three leading architects and town planners (at their own expense, of course, because funding cannot be found elsewhere): Roland Castro, Jean-Marie Duthilleul and Christian de Portzamparc - a considerably creative threesome. Castro's transformation of La Courneuve in Central Park and Portzamparc's cone-shaped RER station are examples of their work. The idea of treating Le Bourget as the northern entry point to Paris, which is exactly what is inspiring current thought, is also an idea originally formed by Portzamparc. Not everything that has been imagined will, of course, go into developmental stages, but a momentum has been created which has served as the basis for the preparation stage of the Territorial Development Contract.

"We are not used to working together," explains Vincent Capo-Canellas.

"It was extremely difficult for us to take an interest in a project outside of our own commune. In terms of industry, it's been the same story a long tradition of ignorance. But the fact that we've put our heads together has pushed Aéroports de Paris to take on board the idea that the airport is in an area that the company can no longer afford to ignore. EADS has also shifted its position on this. Only perhaps the Ministry of Defence continues not to recognise that the Musée de l'Air is one of the area's showcases. Jean-Yves Le Drian needs to reaffirm his intentions here."

Right to the very top

This project has failed to make much of an impression on the public authorities. Le Bourget is certainly on their radar now, but the Élysée has not been significantly involved.

"We are proud of Le Bourget. It is the oldest airport in France and yet no one has ever questioned what will happen in the future," says Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the deputy mayor of Drancy.

"When Orly was created, no questions were asked about the future of Le Bourget. And even less so when Roissy was launched. The subject was so deeply buried that when Sarkozy launched Grand Paris in April 2009, we were not even mentioned in the presentation. Everyone had forgotten all about us, but the project came from us, not them, not the technocrats. The question was settled at 2am in the CEO's office. This is where it was decided to add the Le Bourget pole of excellence to the plan. The aeronautical cluster thus became part of the ninth draft of Grand Paris on the eve of the speech of the President. The Le Bourget site has everything: industry, some of the world's most recognised brands…"

Same pattern, same punishment, two years later.

"From the very outset, we have been working on a draft of the project which is open enough to adapt to future industrial projects," states Vincent Capo-Canellas.

"When we knew that Eurocopter was seeking an airfield for its new plant, we suggested the military zone at Dugny Zone, and the area that runs the length of the runway. This would be dream for Eurocopter: just as is the case in Marignane, they could be based next to the runways - an incredible position to be in. However, there was an obstacle in the way: the Ministry of Defence wanted to successfully complete a financial operation, and they had the support of Bercy behind them. I had to take risks with this, because Eurocopter also had the opportunity to settle in Germany."

However, the minister of Defence at the time, Hervé Morin, although a centrist (like Capo-Canellas and Lagarde), wanted nothing to do with it:

"It was Alain Juppé who put a stop to the situation. It was the Friday night before the Salon du Bourget. The President was supposed to be coming to the event, so they were forced to yield and make the requisite gestures."

Eleven months between the beginning of talks and the signing of the contract; 11 months in battle with Brienne and Bercy, for thousands of jobs with Eurocopter and a handful of positions at EADS, the parent company.

The colossal building work of a multi-fonctional station

Nothing is ever simple at Le Bourget. However, the elected representatives can start to breathe a little easier now, as the state has just made the decision to construct three railway stations within the area. They wanted two, but they got three. Jackpot. Jean-Christophe Lagarde believes the Territorial Development Contract remains "overcautious" and was surprised by the state's request "to further increase the population, when Drancy is already 99% urbanised and the only possible economic development opportunity is at Le Bourget. It should also be noted that the town remains a black hole in terms of public transport, with a single station (serving the northern part of Paris), which can't ever be further developed because of the pollution levels the depot would cause."

The Le Bourget multi-modal station is a huge project, which is set to be built in the town centre. It will bring together three networks, perhaps four: the tangential north (28 km of tram-train linking Sartrouville in Noisy-le-Sec), the RER, the Grand Paris automatic metro line and possibly metro line 7 (when it is extended).

"We are facing a conceptual novelty. A multi-modal station is a totally non-identified legal entity of which no group is the sole manager. The SNCF, RFF, RATP, the STIF and Grand Paris will all be forced to work together on this project. But they are experiencing immense difficulty in achieving this. Collaboration is clearly not something any of them are thus far capable of. I have never been able get them all to sit around the same table, let alone build the same station together. Each has its own prourbanisme gramme, pace of work and budget. There aren't two groups that think alike. Everyone is aware that there are projects that need to be undertaken together and a certain level of complementarity needs to exist in order to be effective, but it is a little like a game of Jenga: the first to move loses the game… or, in this case, gets stuck managing all the planning budgets. Therefore, we have the very strong probability that each company will deal with its own section of the network and that travellers will have to make their own way from one service to another," says Lagarde.

A site covered by Unibail

When a zone is being reworked, there should be no stone left unturned. The major challenge is, and always has been, the airport and its surrounding projects (which could now, finally, have the chance to flourish). It is hoped that the largest showroom in the world of aviation could now finally be connected to Paris. The future metro station will lead on to the square just opposite the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace.

This is an incredible opportunity for this museum, whose collection can only be described as superb, although it should be noted there is not yet a single Airbus in its collection, and it attracts barely 300,000 visitors per year, due to its inaccessibility by public transport. This is extremely disappointing when compared with the annual 5 million visitors its counterpart in Washington receives.

The objective is to continue to develop the site and allow it to fully showcase European success in the air and space industries. It is hoped that with a €150 million investment, the museum will be able to reach visitor numbers around the 1 million mark. However, the Ministry of Defence does not have the funds, so the museum must await patrons. Gifas, the union that brings together companies within the sector, has just donated a total of €5 million, but the museum remains way off target in terms of the budget it needs. It is a rare thing indeed for industrialists to understand that heritage is a formidable communication tool. ADP has been one of the first to realise that the past sells, particularly when on an international platform.

The Ministry of Defence has managed to save the museum from the voracious appetites of promoters, who are allied with certain elected officials, and would be keen to make full use of the museum's land. In contrast, a mere stone's throw away, the brakes may well need to be applied on another rather ambitious project: Unibail has taken up the idea of architect Christian de Portzamparc. However, where the architect wanted to create an entrance door to Grand Paris (on the Lindbergh crossroads next to the A1, just on the outskirts of the airport) the real-estate group hopes to develop a huge shopping centre.

For decades, Le Bourget has suffered from a total absence of synergy between its infrastructure and the zone in which it stands. And just because the city has decided to highlight the jewel that is the Le Bourget airport, mean operators should not be left to do exactly as they please…

Sujets les + lus


Sujets les + commentés

Commentaire 0

Votre email ne sera pas affiché publiquement.
Tous les champs sont obligatoires.

Il n'y a actuellement aucun commentaire concernant cet article.
Soyez le premier à donner votre avis !


Merci pour votre commentaire. Il sera visible prochainement sous réserve de validation.