In 1990 the French Government decided to close the coalmines of the region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, which had been in operation for 3 centuries, and to import cheaper coal from abroad. As a consequence, the 220.000 mine workers of the region lost their jobs. The economic adaptation of Loos-en-Gohelle, as of all mining villages in the region, was a difficult challenge. All its inhabitants were involved in mining activities and the community life was based on this “non-questionable” economic sector. Despite the difficulties, this French village under the leadership of green mayor Jean François Caron has proved that the transition from a coal-based economy is not only possible, but it also brings many environmental, social and economic benefits to its population.
Mentality change in the Loos-en-Gohelle was one of the main drivers of the transition. After closing the principal economic sector in the village, it was necessary to break with the habitual thinking that “another economic model was not possible”. In the mining regions, a huge part of the population has no other formation than mining, and therefore they are reluctant to believe in change. To promote mentality change the city hall organised workshops, training courses and conferences to help citizens understand what transition meant and to motivate and help them to start new projects.
The fear of unemployment, the lack of prospects, the dread of further industrial relocation and the health and environmental risks also helped to awaken citizens’ will to build something different, more sustainable, more participative and more ecological.
In each transition is vital to include the citizens in the process in order to create understanding, consensus and a good environment for the town transformation. Loos-en-Gohelle organised a permanent assembly with all citizens and actors, even with the participation of enterprises and people not convinced of the transition. The assemblies had the objective to collect citizen problems and try to solve them while building together a new sustainable economic model.
The example of Loos-en-Gohelle coal transition also proves that citizen participation is not just about deciding together, but also about sharing responsibilities and building a solidarity community. The mentality change also implies that everyone has to be an active part in the society and collaborate in the provision of common services. In the words of Jean François Caron, if the population is asking for more green spaces, the city hall will provide it, but only if the neighbours commit themselves to help take care of these spaces.
Loos-en-Gohelle decided to promote local sustainable initiatives in order to avoid one of the citizens’ main fears: the possibility of a later delocation of industry sectors and enterprises. Loos-en-Gohelle has specialised in the sustainable sector, developing a big industry in eco-buildings, new recycling methods and renewable energies.
Initiatives for a sustainable village:
(To write this article we have used the report of Equo Asturias of the event “Transition from coal to a green economy” co-organised by GEF and Equo in Asturias)