Can the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region really withdraw from the “zero net artificialization” system, as Laurent Wauquiez announced?

“I have decided that the region withdraws from the process

Can the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region really withdraw from the “zero net artificialization” system, as Laurent Wauquiez announced?

“I have decided that the region withdraws from the process. » Laurent Wauquiez announced, Saturday September 30, his intention to free the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, which he chairs, from the “zero net artificialization” (ZAN) system, managed by local authorities and included in the Climate law and resilience of 2021. This objective of reducing the concreteization of land, which must result, by 2050, in “zero net artificialization”, was the subject, on July 20, of a new law responsible for facilitate its implementation.

“This “ruralicide” law is truly the incarnation of an administrative technocracy which consists of applying the same rule in a very uniform manner throughout the territory, said the elected representative of Les Républicains to AFP. We have people who will be on land where normally they can build and where we will tell them: “you will not have your permit”. This will create considerable resentment and anger. » Mr. Wauquiez believes that we must “start from the proposals of the Senate”, which has already relaxed the application of the text, to “remake the law”.

The announcement angered many elected officials. It is “a demagogic attack which shows the direction of [Laurent] Wauquiez for rural territories: concreteization”, castigated, in a press release, several environmental groups. The executive also reacted strongly: “If he does not respect the law, I hope that there will indeed be sanctions,” declared government spokesperson Olivier Véran.

Article 192 of the Climate and Resilience Law of August 22, 2021, inspired by the Citizens' Climate Convention, defines land artificialization as “the lasting alteration of all or part of the ecological functions of a soil, in particular of its biological, water and climatic functions, as well as its agronomic potential through its occupation or use”.

The law sets two main objectives to regulate what is commonly called “the concreteization of land”:

Local authorities are at the heart of this system. Each region must in particular set, in its planning documents (the regional plans for planning, sustainable development and territorial equality, Sraddet), its own objectives for reducing artificialization, before these are declined to the intercommunal and municipal scale. The ZAN law, for example, prohibits the establishment of new peri-urban shopping centers on natural or agricultural land.

Faced with criticism from communities, who deplored incomplete or unsuitable law enforcement decrees, a law was adopted in July in order to strengthen "the support of local elected officials in the implementation of the fight against the artificialization of soils”.

Today, between 6% and 9% of land is artificialized. Over the last ten years, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, 24,000 hectares of natural, agricultural and forest areas have been consumed each year on average in France, the equivalent of five football fields per hour.

This change in land use is harmful to biodiversity. It amplifies global warming, since artificial soils lose their capacity to absorb CO2, and accentuate runoff phenomena and the associated risks of flooding. Not to mention the social and territorial consequences caused by urban sprawl: reduction of agricultural land, commercial vacancies in city centers, etc.

For many jurists, the declaration of the right-wing elected official has no legal basis. “We wonder what was going through his head,” wonders Pierre-Etienne Moullé, public law lawyer at the Lyon bar contacted by Le Monde. On a legal level, we do not see what levers he thinks he can activate to achieve this result. »

“That he is mobilizing against these objectives of artificialization by using legal means, such as asking for changes to the law, why not, but announcing that his region is not going to apply the laws of the Republic, I find that scandalous , thunders lawyer specializing in urban planning law Laura Ceccarelli – Le Guen. This suggests that an elected official [may not] respect the law, even though we are in a state of law! »

First of all, Laurent Wauquiez's prominence clashes with the hierarchy of standards, which defines the order of priority between the different levels which govern a state of law. In this case, in France, the laws, passed at the national level by Parliament, cannot be called into question by the regions. “The region has a role to play through the Sraddet, but is far from being the only interlocutor. Alone, it does not have sufficient competence to thwart the application of the law,” explains Me Moullé.

Indeed, the objectives of the Climate and Resilience Law must be planned within the different levels of local authorities, not only at the regional level, according to a very specific timetable. The regions, for example, have until February 22, 2024 to integrate the objectives of reducing artificialization into the Sraddet. It is at this level that the president of the region probably intends to act, explains Me Ceccarelli – Le Guen, who distinguishes two possible options for Laurent Wauquiez:

Sanctions for missing deadlines mainly target municipalities, the lawyer specifies, because, if they do not translate these objectives within the allotted deadlines, “this delay can paralyze all openings to urbanization in the municipalities”.

Even if Laurent Wauquiez opposed it, and the communities followed him, the ZAN system would end up being implemented by bypassing the president of the region. “It will then be up to the prefect to enforce the law, by ordering communities to fall into line,” explains Me Moullé. The Rhône prefect could notably put it on the agenda of the regional council and impose it on communities, the finest link on which the system is based.

What about a “sanction”, as Olivier Véran suggested? The Climate and Resilience Law does not provide for this. But any regional development plan that ignores the ZAN provision would be very fragile, and could easily be attacked by associations, elected officials or even citizens, or even directly seized and canceled by the administrative court. “The prefect can challenge this decision; or any environmental defense association can refer the matter to the administrative judge, on the grounds that the document is illegal because it does not take the law into account,” explains Me Ceccarelli – Le Guen.

Thus, there is no chance that the ZAN law will not come into force in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. For Mr. Moullé, “it looks much more like a political smokescreen operation.”