On the last days of 2019, BBC News published an article on a main train station transformation project in Paris: Gare du Nord: Why Europe’s busiest station needs a makeover fast. This is a project that we have mentioned in October on CJAG’s website (here) and that we are therefore familiar with. After a (rather) balanced presentation of the opinions of different parties, the problem comes with the conclusion of the article:
“But truth be told, opponents of Stationord are fighting a losing battle.
Paris’s other big stations – Montparnasse, Saint-Lazare, Austerlitz – have already had their commercial makeover. Why would the Gare du Nord be any different?”
I must say it without a doubt that this conclusion/statement is not only a total distortion of the reality, but a biased presentation. It leads to only 2 possibilities: either the author is expressing his own ideology (that the trend is to privatise all public space and it should be encouraged); or due to a lack of time he decided to copy/paste the press release given by the developers without any shame. In any case it is an example of very bad journalism!
Other big Paris’ stations have NOT been transformed in shopping malls
As we presented last October, the Gare du Nord project is promoted by Auchan, one of the supermarket giants, paired with the French railway company SNCF to put forward a proposal including a huge commercial centre that people will be forced to cross before accessing the platforms (they will go up to the mall using escalator to access tickets machines, before going down again to platform level). As a compensation, the development is offered for free to the taxpayer (you will recognise the business model: When something is free it is because YOU are the product).
It is very different form the commercial revamp that occurred in the last years in Montparnasse station, Gare de l’Est or St Lazare. To focus on St Lazare (but this is similar for the other stations), the commercial centre with multiple shops is located underneath the station.
Indeed, you can choose to pass through the mall (while standing on escalators) if you want to go from the Metro station to the mainline train station without going outside.
However you can also access the station from the main street without going through the mall, as it has always existed. In a nutshell, access from the main street to the concourse and platforms does not force you through the mall.
Access to the train station from all main street entrances are disconnected from the commercial centre.
At the bottom of this article you will find a series of images to illustrate access to the station and station concourse.
Studies show that the developer’s project is presenting false assumptions and risks making the situation worse
According to an article published in January 6th by the French newspaper Le Monde, we read:
Wrong postulates, questionable hypotheses and solutions that aggravate the problems they claim to solve: the project to renovate and enlarge the Gare du Nord in Paris, led by the French National Railway Company (SNCF) and an Auchan subsidiary, Ceetrus, is torn to pieces by two studies made public by the City of Paris, Monday, January 6. “These reports show serious shortcomings which must now be taken into account by the public inquiry commission and the regional prefect,” said Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris. Based on this work, the municipality officially issues “an unfavorable opinion on the project” as part of the public inquiry procedure, which ends on Wednesday 8 January.
As you see, the project is not a simple and inevitable solution as it was presented by the BBC News’ article.
It resonate in echo to the failed project to erect two 42 storey towers in Clapham Junction in compensation for a vague revamp of the access to the station, 10 years ago. As a reminder, we wrote at the time:
Metro’s plans for Clapham Junction station do not go anywhere near far enough, and may result in a situation worse than at present. Metro’s ‘improvements’ concern only the entrances to the station and do not impact on the problems of access to or overcrowding of the platforms. Nor do they create any extra capacity within the station: instead, the plan is simply to reverse the present situation whereby local people enter the station via the underpass, whilst those changing trains are directed to the over-pass. Placed in context, it is apparent that the gain to local residents is minimal and that if real improvements are to be made, we must look elsewhere.
Images to illustrate access to the station and station concourse.
UPDATE 21/09/2021: We’ve just learned that the French rail company SNCF is now considering scrapping the whole project of commercial centre at Gare du Nord, due to construction costs that have triple and delays [Source AFP/Le Monde]