It is a resounding declaration which breaks a media silence of several months. From Alpe d'Huez (Isère) where the congress of rural mayors of France was held on Saturday, the LR boss of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez announced that his community would not participate in “zero net artificialization” . This device, which he describes as “ruralicide”, aims to stop the concreteization of soils by 2050 by drastically reducing the surface area of buildable land.
“Putting building permit decisions on rural areas under wraps means that we are denying ourselves any form of future (…). I decided that the region withdrew from the process. We do it in conjunction with the departments with which we discussed it,” said the former boss of LR in front of an audience of local elected officials, not really enthusiastic about the legislative measure.
A unilateral decision which immediately caused the presidential camp to jump, denouncing the “demagoguery” of the putative LR candidate for 2027. “He cannot take the easy option by refusing to take his part in the ecological transition of our country and by playing the territories against each other,” scathed the Minister of Ecology Transition, Christophe Béchu. Invited on Europe 1 on Sunday, the government spokesperson, Olivier Véran, even went so far as to mention “sanctions” against the boss of Aura if his region exempted itself from the law. Can Laurent Wauquiez really get his community out of the system?
In legal terms, Laurent Wauquiez's position seems difficult to apply. The “ZAN” system is in fact part of the Climate and Resilience law, adopted in July 2021, which entrusts the regions with the task of setting an objective for reducing the concreteization of land. “Laurent Wauquiez has no right to deviate from it, it is an objective which is set by the legislator and which is imposed on the regions. He does not have to choose to apply it or not to apply it: he is obliged to do so,” explains Jean-Baptiste Duclerq, lecturer in public law at Paris-Saclay University.
A simple declaration is also not enough to sweep away this device set in legislative stone. “As it is a law relating to town planning and the environment, it is essentially the municipalities and intercommunalities which are actually concerned,” underlines Olivier Renaudie, professor of public law at the École de la Sorbonne. Perplexed, the lawyer finds it difficult to see how the boss of Aura could translate his words into action: “What could he withdraw from? The region does not play a major role in the application of zero net artificialization.”
The fact remains that Laurent Wauquiez could make his announcement a reality in the planning document (Sraddet), which defines the broad outlines of land use planning on a regional scale. This valuable report precisely sets the objectives relating to sustainable development, before being rolled out at the departmental and then municipal level. “If he chooses to depart from national objectives, this document will be contrary to the law and therefore illegal,” explains Jean-Baptiste Duclerq.
A legal loophole that environmental defense associations will not hesitate to step into by filing an appeal with the administrative court. “In this case, the administrative judge will inevitably note the illegality of the document,” assures the lawyer specializing in environmental issues, Jean-Baptiste Duclerq.
Also read “Zero net artificialization”: rural mayors denounce “creeping supervision” of the regions
This is what also led his LR colleague from Hauts-de-France, Xavier Bertrand, to review the copy of his “Sradett”. In his document voted in 2020, this fervent opponent of wind turbines had expressed the ambition to develop “renewable energies (...) other than onshore wind power”. After an association's appeal, the administrative judge finally forced the region to reconsider its objectives.
Finally, it is difficult to imagine any sanction against Laurent Wauquiez, as Olivier Véran has argued. “He risks nothing,” says Olivier Renaudie, for whom his declaration is more “political” than “legal”. Only refractory municipalities are in reality exposed to reprisals if they do not respect the “ZAN” timetable. In this case, they may be subject to a freezing of urban planning authorizations for their local urban planning plan (PLU) or a suspension of the opening of areas to be urbanized.