Thursday, 26 August 2010

Letter from Les Landes, Saturday 14th August

Our lunch was rudely interrupted yesterday by a youngish man in camouflage-patterned combat trousers and T-shirt enquiring who owned the land next to us. We told him it belonged to the 'commune' (i.e the Mairie, or Mayor) and politely enquired why he was asking. He didn't seem inclined to tell us, so when I said that, actually, a part of the land was ours (true enough, though sadly only a metre-wide strip the other side of the stream) and that therefore we had reason to know, he informed us he was looking at buying some suitable 'parcelle' of land to make a botanical garden. The piece of land in question, full of natural springs, would, of course, be ideal and save a lot of watering...



Although, to the outsider, this may seem an admirable enough idea, his plan was to encourage tourists and schools visits which seems a little inappropriate in a narrow residential lane squeezed between two houses, thus ruining the privacy and tranquillity of both. When there is miles of forest in all directions, it seems a tad perverse to come and trample over our space - like the people who come and sit pretty much on your towel when there's acres of beach all around. The young gun in combats then further aided my sudden attack of indigestion by announcing that 'better this than a house'. I muttered that the ground had been declared 'inconstructible' - i.e un-buildable on - because of the aforementioned natural springs which have their source there. To this he countered, ominously, 'all ground can be made 'constructible' ' and that sure as eggs is eggs there would be a house on it one day. I was not amused.

This brings me neatly to a current large juicy bone of contention (not just here in France, but in my hilly English home too): it seems that wherever I find to rest my caravan that is beautiful, and which I love for its peace and natural wonders, there's always some bastard who wants to come along and destroy it. Back home, many other local residents and I are currently engaged in a battle against Barratt Homes who are in cohoots with the local authorities and want to build 550 unremarkable houses whose need has not been justified in a valley of remarkable beauty. There has been a face-saving consultation period, civil objections - and now we discover there is the stench of rotting fish within the local authority which potentially seems happy to take a quick back-hander at the expense of the local community (not least of which being that the local secondary school would have half its playing fields removed if the proposal were to go ahead). So much for democracy.

Out here in rural France, meanwhile, we are being assailed at every turn by cheap housing, supposedly for the local community, but in fact (apart from the high-density lotissements) mostly bought or constructed by second homers. (Please excuse my apparent hypocrisy as a holiday home owner, but we love this area - like the many who have found it before us - and would do anything to preserve its character and uniqueness. This is of course lost on those who have lived here all there lives and perhaps see any old building programme as progress.) The point of my objection is not in the building per se, but in the nature of the seemingly unchecked process where the Mayor seems omnipotent. Our Mayor has been in his position for 35 years and his father was Mayor before him. It seems that the local community has voted him in - but maybe it was the case of the devil known. He is not all bad and has done much to enhance community life - but he will allow no building on his side of town where he lives in a fine house with a fine private lake behind a fine dense hedge surrounded by 'la nature'. Our side of town is, of course, another matter and he is currently wreaking havoc in what seems, to the outsider, a slightly ambitious, not to say misguided, 'plan d'urbanisme' wherby forest and field is being given planning permission almost hourly, it seems, in the headlong rush to make a quick buck and for the unnaturally hasty 'aggrandissement' of a rural community. The raison d'etre for all this would appear to be more about the aggrandissement of Monsieur le Maire's ego rather than anything more altruistic. Here, as in my home town, there is a serious risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. But hey, who am I to tell them that? I will, nevertheless, try...

And if the bloke in combat trousers manages to persuade the Mayor that his plan for the Mezos equivalent of Kew is actually rather chipper, then I shall have to consider opening up my house for tourists as a 'Classic Landaise Farmhouse', rather like the Ecomusee de Marqueze (watch this clip for a giggle!) - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, eh?! I'm sure the Mayor would approve as he also has plans for a golf course nearby.

Meanwhile I'm just going to pop down the Amazon for a few choice piranhas to chuck in his lovely lake....


4 comments:

Queen of the Rant said...

lol, hey I gave you a blog award you should come check out the details at my blog

Nutty Gnome said...

I'm with you on this one!
I'm sick of Chesterfield trying to give planning permission for new builds on green sites, rather than the brown sites they're supposed to approve .......and don't get me started on Tesco's world domination policy or that hideous new hotel they're building opposite the new enormous Tesco's here!!!!

HER ON THE HILL said...

Hi Queenie - thank you SO MUCH for giving me such a lovely award. I have just gone to collect it and put it proudly on my shelf. I am deeply flattered and have also noted your gentle admonishments that I SHOULD BLOG MORE AND VISIT MORE!! All this I know and want to do desperately, but Time seems always to be my enemy. I must try harder! I have so much lined up that I want to say, but just not enough time to do so with all the other demands that are made of me. Tis most frustrating.

I am aware that I need to fulfil award obligations which I will. Promise. Just don't tell me off for taking a little mo to do so...!

Nutty - lovely to hear from you and glad you feel like me (though sorry that you are being similarly traumatised).

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