Potential delays to Roland Garros development plans

From l’Équipe print edition 18 February, 2015.
Article written by Philippe Maria

While the French Federation of Tennis were expecting that the building permits needed to begin the planned Roland Garros extension works of Roland Garros would be issued any day soon, a report published online last Monday evening (on the Ministry of Ecology’s website) could cause a delay.  Yesterday, through its general director, Gilbert Ysern, the FFT spoke out to voice its incomprehension. A political maelstrom followed and looks far from ending.

What is the problem?

After three years of petty administrative wars, the RG extension project (handover planned in stages between 2017 and 2019) finally looked to be on track. All systems were go for the Federation which was only waiting for the building permits to launch the public tender procedure. And, bam! In a period of peace, an unexpected report came, Monday evening, on the website of the Ministry of Ecology, concluding that an (old) alternative project, based on covering the A13 motorway was feasible..

In itself, this report, which has no legal value (it can’t delay the issuance of building permits) could have been ignored by the federal officials. As a very wound-up Gilbert Ysern said yesterday: “We did not wait for this alleged study to know that it was technically possible to cover the motorway next to Roland Garros. If tomorrow, we wished to dismantle the Eiffel tower and assemble it back in my garden in Narbonne, of course that would be feasible. But how much would it cost? How much time would it take and who would pay for it?”

The problem is that this report comes from the general Agency for Environment and Sustainable Development, which is a unit of the Ministry of Ecology, and that, to definitively approve the expected building permits, two signatures are needed: the signature of the Ministry of Culture, which should not be an issue; and the signature of… the ministry of Segolène Royal. [i.e. Ministry of Ecology.]

Was the Federation expecting it?

For several weeks, even if it’s not admitting to it, the FFT had heard that the former presidential candidate, who lives close to the stadium, was trying to obstruct the project, to the point that, during a presentation to the president of the Republic, François Hollande, the subject had allegedly been diplomatically addressed. Indeed, from the city hall of Paris to the Elysée, via Matignon, the file seemed to have unanimous approval. That being said, nobody in Porte d’Auteuil was expecting the report. This explains the (feigned?) incomprehension from Ysem: “For the first time, the project is attacked by part of the administration,” he said, “Yet it comes at a time when the government supports the organisation of the 2024 Olympics in the capital – a venture that the new Roland Garros would be a part of. Thus I can’t believe the government is opposing our project.” The FFT general director explained that he had managed to book an appointment with Ségolène Royal before it was cancelled by phone due to other commitments. “We only spoke on the phone. It was before the report was published (Monday).” The Ministry of Ecology, which we contacted yesterday, didn’t respond to our request for a comment.

Could the current project be reconsidered?

Considering that the signature of the Ministry of Ecology is necessary for the building permits to be issued, yes. Even if Ysem refuses to believe it.  “This project has passed every administrative obstacle, including the last public inquiry report, which had laudatory conclusions. And now that we are finally approaching the final chapter, it’s like someone is tapping on our shoulder saying: ‘we are changing the rules, you are going back for three rounds! What people don’t realise is that for us, who have to prepare the tournament before it is played, two months is a year! Because Roland Garros cannot stop during the construction. It would be suicide.”

While Yves Contassot, Parisian consultant for “Europe Ecologie les Verts,” highlighted the “technical and legal viability of the alternative project”, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hildago, didn’t delay yesterday in coming to the aid of the FFT:  “I am worried about the delay suffered by this project, which is indispensable to maintaining this international tournament in Paris. The covering of the A13 motorway is brought up once more today, while two studies have concluded that it was not relevant. The series of procedures (not counting construction time) would be long and complex… The handover would take place, at best, in 2025 or 2026. At a time when Paris is considering being a candidate for the 2024 Olympics, such a delay in the extension of Roland Garros would be a very bad signal to send to the IOC. I appeal to each and everyone’s responsibility so that this project, which has been the subject of substantial consultation and will be part of the international influence of Paris and France, may see the light of day within the agreed time frame.”