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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un plan banlieue qui cache la forêt gouvernementale

by Interview by Ludovic Tomas

You can’t see the Forest for the Trees in this Government Plan for our Impoverished Urban Areas

Translated Tuesday 19 August 2008, by Shelagh Rothero

Following the meeting of the Interministerial Committee for Towns (CIV) on 20th June, when the project ‘Suburban Hope’ was presented, Fadela Amara, secretary of state for Town Policy, recently took part at Le Havre (Seine Maritime) in a discussion organised by the National Council for Towns. Maurice Charrier is the vice-president of this organisation as well as being mayor of Vaulx-en-Velin (Rhône). There were two opposing points of view.

Le Havre (Seine Maritime), special correspondant.

Will the policy ‘Suburban Hope’ deal with the problems in our deprived urban areas?

FADELA AMARA: The first signs of unrest in the deprived areas became apparent in the eighties and reached their height with the riots of 2005. Since then there have been a number of assessments which allowed us to determine what was not going along very well and what needed to be done. I am concerned that we stick to the facts. It is for this reason that I set up meetings, in stairwells, with people who live in deprived areas and who are, in my opinion, the real experts. I want to develop ‘made-to-measure’ so that these neighbourhoods will become pleasant and desirable places to live. From now on CIV will meet at least twice a year to see where we are at and to adapt the responses as and when required. Nonetheless, town policy must not be one uniquely devoted to the most urgent problems, but a governmental policy in which each minister takes part according to the means allowed by each individual budget. The novelty of this scheme is in its philosophy in that it reintroduces common law and ‘interministeriality’. It is based equally on the two-man partnership uniting the mayor and the chief commissioner. Finally, we must reintroduce the custom of bringing concrete results to those public housing projects (known to the British public as "council estates"). The public need to know how the money is spent and how it impacts on the population.

MAURICE CHARRIER: The ‘Suburban Hope’ project proposes a certain number of responses with which I agree, such as the necessity of opening up the problem areas or having schools which offer a second chance. But it also has weaknesses and faults especially in the way in which funds are allocated. With 30 outstanding high schools on the national level or 4,000 schools committed to pupil support, we are still far short of the target. It isn’t so much the plan for the deprived areas but general government policy. The major preoccupation of the people who live there is employment, accommodation and spending power. You see, on these three questions the current policy aggravates the situation. There are sometimes strong contradictions between government policy and the guidance given by the ‘Suburban Hope’ project - as, for example, when on the one hand the aim is to develop access to health facilities but in reality medical franchises are set up. In the same way, one talks of giving priority to education but when the pupils return to school this autumn they will find that 11,000 teaching posts have been cut. Even a good policy in the town will never correct the negative effects of a global policy.

What, in your opinion, should be given priority in the sensitive neighbourhoods?

FADELA AMARA: The people who live there must be treated like everyone else. I don’t like the idea of handouts because that takes away freedom of the individual. My main criticism of the Left is for not allowing them to think for themselves and for over-protecting them. Today the young people from these neighbourhoods don’t give a damn for the Left nor the Right. They just want one thing - to reach the end of the month and, in the best of cases, go on holiday. It’s my job and I’m happy to be there.

MAURICE CHARRIER: The problems in our deprived areas do not come from within. They are the victims of the global crisis in society – a society which neglects the less fortunate. Fadela Amara and Nicolas Sarkozy talk of the necessary return of the Republic to these suburbs. But, the people who live there are republicans (just like you and I. They know how to live and they understand the rules. It is important to proceed with caution and not prolong the discussion on the no-go areas of our cities. The communities only ask to be accepted and we must stop stigmatising them once and for all.

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