The Seine-Nord Europe Canal has overcome what may have been the final obstacle in its epic progression towards the first shovel of earth being moved. The State, regions and départements agreed on a plan to bear the increased cost of the works, at a meeting held in the cabinet office of Alain Vidalies, Secretary of State for Transport, on Monday November 28. The crisis mentioned in our post of November 17 has thus been avoided. The challenge facing all partners was enormous, because agreement had still not been reached on the initial total of € 4.5 billion, and following recent ‘updating’ studies the cost was now going to between € 5.3 and 5.7 billion. The Government was the first to make a bold move, by committing to pay half of the increased cost. The Île de France region (Greater Paris) committed to € 110 million, half of its initially planned share of € 220 million, a reduction no doubt motivated in part by the huge call on funds for the region’s public transport network expansion over the coming 20-30 years. The Hauts-de-France region (Northern France, now including Picardy) has increased its commitment from € 250 million to € 302 million, while the Département Nord confirmed its initial share of € 200 million, as well as its share of the increased cost, to be paid in its budget years 2024 and 2025. The president of Nord, Jean-René Lecerf, had declared at the previous meeting on November 15 that he was ‘not going to sign a blank cheque’.

Canal du Nord lock from Courrier Picard

A mini-push-tow of two 38.50m barges (500 tonnes) leaves lock 19 on the existing Canal du Nord, heading north. Photo by Mikael Sizine

The Government is now expected to sign the decree formalising the creation of the Société de Projet (project implementation company) before the end of the year.

A huge sigh of relief was expressed by all those close to the project. In the front line: Rémi Pauvros who was in charge of the ‘reconfiguration’ process that effectively reduced the cost by lowering the summit level and eliminating one lock, Stéphane Demilly who has been the most vocal advocate in the Assemblée Nationale, the president of the Hauts-de-France region, former minister Xavier Bertrand, and – in the background – an earlier proponent of the project as Minister of the Environment, Jean-Louis Borloo.

Not forgetting the team that has been working hard on the project for many years within VNF (Voies Navigables de France), under the leadership of Nicolas Bour.

These key players are shown in the gallery below.

Key players for new French canal