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Recherche et développement régional durable

Corinne Larrue

Session 4. Les territoires du développement durable et le rôle du niveau régional / Territorial entities and sustainable development : the role of the regional level

Actors and local issues of sustainable development : the example of Nord-Pas-de-Calais


Bertrand Zuindeau

Texte intégral

  • 1 Médée et Ifrési-CNRS, Lille, France.

1Note portant sur l’auteur1

2This symposium raises the issue of the interrelationship between the problems of socio-economic development which takes into consideration environmental factors, the area where this development can be applied, i.e. the region, and actions which can assist this regional application, i.e. research. This three-fold question is both analytical and functional.

3The paper is based on the case of the mining basin of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The results and elements presented come from the Programme of Concerted Research (PRC) – “Environment/human activities”. This programme itself contributes to sustainable regional restructuring.

4The specific region analysed, which is the urban community of Hénin-Carvin, benefits from a new approach and new methods, in which public research plays a significant role. This paper aims to analyse this new approach, identifying the main characteristics and outlining briefly a few prospects for the future.

5First of all, it is important to show to what extent the economic pathway of the old industrialized regions diverges from sustainable development. The aim of economic restructuring takes the form of a transition between non-sustainability and sustainability, with an intermediate stage of “reconstruction”.

6The old industrialized regions combine two types of negative effect on the environment : those which result from previous industrial growth, and those which are linked to the crisis of that growth plan and the economic regression which followed.

7The impact of designing a region round a mining area is clearly shown in terms not only of the economic construction of the region concerned, but also its influence on political, social and cultural life as a whole. Indeed, the economic growth of the region derived essentially from the mines and the associated heavy industry. These various activities have proved to be harmful to the natural environment of the area. The substratum has been seriously destructured, the level of pollution is also high in the area, particularly as regards the groundwater. According to an official inventory, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais has 150 polluted sites, i.e. 16 per cent of the national total.

8When we speak of non-sustainable development to describe the mining basin region, it is not only with reference to the environmental liabilities brought about by past industrial growth, but also to the negative environmental events involved in the redevelopment of the area. The work carried out by the PCR highlighted two types of economic mechanism which can explain this relationship. Firstly, environmental externalities can lead to high costs, some of them permanent, (e.g. pumping stations to remove rising water, costing 20 million francs). What is important is that the money involved could have been spent on other, more productive, uses. Secondly, these environmental externalities can lead to a “disqualification” of the region. This disqualification itself produces a negative image which penalises development. For example, certain sectors, such as commercial services, for whom the quality of the environment can be a deciding factor in choosing their location, are relatively under-represented in the mining basin.

9Moreover, traditional restructuring policies have proved limited. For example the policies of the 1960-80s were characterized by the role of the State which aimed at a direct replacement of activities and infrastructure constructing. Renewing the economic fabric therefore took the form of a search for “like for like compensation” ; old industrial activities were to be replaced by new ones ; large businesses were to be replaced by similar new ones.

10With decentralization, the region took on full administrative powers and gradually became the driving force. Different areas of priority were developed, with a greater emphasis on intangibles (e.g. environment, training, skills development, business development) and services. However, the new status of the environment also showed its limitations. The policy of rehabilitating industrial wastelands achieved significant results in the mining basin, but environmental problems were not resolved. This was partly due to under-funding, but also to a lack of awareness of the problems, the underlying causes and how to resolve them. This resulted in renewed efforts to study these issues and keep the actors informed. Insufficient importance was given to “intangible investments” in this sector, while contemporary economic developments generally gave them priority. Key topics of training, research, and transfer of technology, although not entirely neglected, did not reach the desired level.

11Faced with these shortcomings, some initiatives have been taken which show a new attitude and approach in the public sphere. There are as yet too few examples to speak of a “model”. In the last few years, a number of actions have been initiated which show common features, suggesting a renewed interest in the problem of reconstruction. For example, all the actions undertaken include an element of public research.

12A number of initiatives can be identified which are beginning to form a certain “critical mass”. First of all, the PRC (1964) is an interdisciplinary research programme aiming to analyse the relationship between human activities and the environment, bringing together about 80 researchers working on three main issues : pollution analysis, geological and hydrological concerns, and socio-economic factors.

13The centre of expertise (1995), attached to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais public land Institution, enables the different actors involved (State departments, local authorities, economic institutions, societies and research laboratories) to exchange ideas, with the aim of renovating polluted sites in the area, especially in the mining basin. But the centre aims above all to promote an interface between researchers and other actors for longer term investigations.

14The on-going Work Group of the mining basin (1996) aims to lay down the conditions for the creation of a mutual land project, and to assist the withdrawal process of mining concessions. Five workshops were organised and diagnostic possibilities were found to improve. Similarly, this process assisted an improved introduction of local projects. The second phase focused more on elaboration of the plans. A third phase is currently under way, working towards putting the plans into operation. But already, one of the proposals in the Official Paper has allowed a mining basin mission to be set up under the aegis of the State.

15The research programme “Anthropology of the mining basin” is an interdisciplinary programme bringing together private individuals and people from public authorities in the mining basin to understand the development of a region profoundly marked by coal-extraction activities.

16The general interest project of Métaleurop (2000) has led to the creation of a real regional project, with an ecosite suitable for experimental work.

17The Loos en Gohelle base project (2000) set up an activity centre principally directed towards environmental activities, while the objective of a plan to create a resource centre for sustainable development (2001) is to create an interface between supply and demand of information about sustainable development and gradually build up a benchmarking procedure.

18A certain number of common features can be found in some or all of these action. Firstly, there is the constant presence of the regional institution, often playing an initiatory role. Also, the action plans put forward encourage greater cooperation between those involved. Researchers have a key role, being involved in defining the issues as well as in making projects operational. Finally, the “spirit” of sustainable development is beginning to permeate into operations which have been implemented, and it is evident that there is a clear goal of putting land to new use, especially environmental. Initiatives show a marked tendency towards intangibles : research, training and culture which is also close to the spirit of sustainable development. A final feature shows the relationship with the sustainable development approach, via. a “global” view focusing on interdependency and putting the accent on the regional dimension of the project.

19These new actions in the mining basin of Nord-Pas-de-Calais are promising. A strict analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of this region must be carried out, on which a strategy for economic redevelopment can be based. The challenge confronting this region is moving from non-sustainability to sustainability. But it seems to us that business firms are insufficiently represented in the proposed actions, a significant gap in an approach which aims for economic reconstruction of the area. More generally, what is required is the development of a socio-economic situation and an environment which favours the dynamics of long-term activities.


1 Médée et Ifrési-CNRS, Lille, France.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2002

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