David Chazan, Telegraph, November 1, 2015
A row has erupted over a planned theme park in Calais that its mayor hopes will rehabilitate the image of a town tainted by its association with squalid migrants’ camps.
The €300 million (£213 million) theme park, Heroic Land, will be built on a 125-acre site only two miles from the Jungle camps where about 6,000 migrants hoping to cross the Channel to Britain are sheltering.
Due to open in 2019, it will be France’s fifth largest adventure park, featuring 32 attractions with themes as diverse as Lord of the Rings, Japanese manga cartoons and Jules Verne, the French author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. At one attraction, Goldo Tower, visitors will slide down from a height of 80 metres “inside a robot”.
The centre-Right mayor, Natacha Bouchart, hopes it will transform Calais into a tourist resort and revive the local economy. “It offers innovations that don’t exist in other theme parks,” she said.
However, 10 Socialist MPs in northern France have complained that the project is being railroaded through without public consultation.
The French government has funded a €220,000 feasibility study, supplemented by another €400,000 from the regional council, but private investors are to come up with the cost of construction.
Local authorities have dismissed suggestions that investors will refuse to back a project so close to the Jungle camps.
Yann Capet, MP for the Pas-de-Calais region, claims there was a “lack of transparency”. He said he has demanded a “public debate”, a standard consultation procedure for large infrastructure and public works projects in France. However, officials claim aides of Manuel Valls, the prime minister, were trying to block the move.
“They’re putting us under a lot of pressure to stifle this one,” according to an official at the national commission which organises public debates.
No one from Mr Valls’ office was available for comment.
The issue is politically sensitive, with the far-Right Front National (FN) set to win power in the Calais area in regional council elections next month, according to opinion polls.
The presence of the migrants has dealt a severe blow to the economy of Calais and the mayor has demanded financial compensation from the British and French governments.
According to Marc Legrand of Calais Promotion, Heroic Land would create 1,000 badly needed jobs in a city with an unemployment rate of 17 per cent, one of the highest in France.
“The creation of the park will associate Calais with a positive image,” he said. “It’s not because there are migrants here that we can’t do something enterprising.”
Mr Legrand argued that the migrants, who have often caused disruption to Eurostar train services, ferries and other transport links, would have no impact on the park. “They won’t be interested in it because it won’t help them get to the UK.”
Jean-François Thibous, the Heroic Land project manager, said the park will “aim for 1.5 million visitors a year” from France and other European countries.
To be open 200 days a year, it will have six areas, called “universes”, each with a distinct theme.