From our special correspondent
“I experienced the descent into hell. » Gérard Sourisseau, president of the agglomeration of the Pays de Dreux, tastes what looks like a rebirth of the city of Eure-et-Loir after it has known many turpitudes. The first city to have given, just forty years ago, a folding seat to the National Front, plunged into a then deleterious and delinquent climate, violently devastated by massive deindustrialization, Dreux, a commune among the poorest in France, has long vegetated.
It is perhaps this stained image of a bygone era sticking to his skin that gave the city, and the surrounding communities, a fierce energy to climb the slope. It first knew how to take full advantage of major urban renewal operations to change its appearance. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, rebuilt, rehabilitated, dedensified, residentialized. A vast remodeling nearing completion in the last two districts concerned, that of Bâtes in Dreux and that of Tabellionne in Vernouillet, a municipality in the same urban unit which has a total of 44,000 inhabitants.
Today, the entire agglomeration of the Pays de Dreux – 81 municipalities, 117,000 inhabitants – is among the seven national winners “pilot territories of land sobriety” of the program launched in September 2020 to develop alternatives to urban sprawl and anticipate the obligation of zero net artificialisation of land set by the climate law of 2021. “We want to make Dreux a showcase, we believe in the need to reduce our industrial wastelands and no longer consume agricultural land”, argues Gérard Sourisseau. The project, which began several years ago, has since benefited from a real accelerator.
Because of the wastelands, the agglo has it in spades since the closure of the large factories: 48 sites, including 23 in Dreux and Vernouillet, on 92 hectares which, when looked at with a fresh eye, offer gigantic potential. “We rehabilitate, but it’s not just to densify at all costs, it’s also to green,” insists Émilie Neveu, director of land use planning and major projects for the agglomeration.
Thus in Saulnières, about fifteen kilometers from Dreux, a few posts and metal elements stand as witnesses of the industrial past. The historic foundry located in the heart of the village of 600 inhabitants has become a park of several hectares on the banks of the Blaise, after cleaning up the soil and transforming the most beautiful buildings into housing.
“We must identify all the invisible land, see what can be used to build or rehabilitate, what needs to be renatured, what needs to be put on hold,” explains Émilie Neveu. In this virtuous approach, Dreux buried a tertiary district project on two hectares which extend on each side of the station. “Mono-functionality is no longer relevant, it is urgent not to do anything in this strategic location. While waiting for a relevant project, we can consider temporary uses of the land,” argues the town planner.
Elsewhere, construction sites are progressing at full speed, such as on the “Radio” site. Philips closed in 2006, when the cathode ray screens reached the end of their life, leaving at the entrance to Dreux “11 hectares of very concrete, 55,000 m2 of buildings and 20 km of assembly lines”, reports Émilie Neveu. The elected officials then prevented the installation of a car scrapyard.
Since then, the remarkable industrial heritage has been largely renovated and hosts around fifty companies and start-ups. It remains to take care of huge carcasses of buildings. “We are also going to de-waterproof this very mineral site to avoid runoff and better manage biodiversity,” adds the town planner.
On the Vernouillet side, the former Gérard-Mang electrical component factory will be transformed into a “Spectacular” district, with cultural third places, housing, artists’ residences alongside the Atelier à spectacle, a large 950-seat hall which has been located for a long time in what was a glue-laminated timber frame factory.
The hypercentre of Dreux is also the object of an intense reconquest. Charles Babillot, the city’s trade director, admires the Dôme, this majestic 19th century building long abandoned, transformed into a job center, shared workspace, medialab for audiovisual production, etc. And he points out all the shops that have opened in the streets around the belfry: here a fishmonger, there a mini-market, elsewhere several restaurants, a decoration shop, soon a greengrocer, in addition to the daily market under the hall, etc.
“We went up the slope thanks to the Action heart of the city”, he explains, referring to the national plan launched in 2018 to revitalize the centers of medium-sized cities. “We are starting to stem the competition from the two shopping centers on the outskirts of the city!” he rejoices. For two years, we have had a positive balance of +27 businesses in 2021 and +18 in 2022; the vacancy rate, which was nearly 16% six years ago, has fallen to 6.8%, and we are aiming for 4%. The result of painstaking work to revive the center and its historic half-timbered houses overlooked by the Royal Chapel of Saint-Louis, necropolis of the Orléans family.
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