French MPs vote on road map for restoring Notre-Dame
Three months after fire destroyed the roof and spire of Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, French MPs were set Tuesday to approve controversial proposals on how to go about rebuilding the famous church.
Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, were to vote in late afternoon or early evening on a hotly debated set of proposals for restoring the celebrated cathedral.
The objective of the proposals, according to Culture Minister Franck Riester, was “to offer Notre-Dame a restoration up to the standard of the place it occupies in the hearts of the French people and the whole world”.
While it consists largely of creating special committees and administrative bodies, the bill essentially provides the legal basis for what has already been proposed by President Emmanuel Macron and the French government.
While lawmakers were united in support of this objective, they were more divided on what the bill meant for the timeline, design and funding of the restoration work.
Five-year target criticised
The proposals correspond to Macron’s objective of having the building reopened within five years, in time for the 2024 Olympic Games to be hosted in Paris.
Many architects, engineers and heritage specialists have warned that’s just not enough to do the job properly.
Three months after the fire, tourists and other admirers have to observe the building from outside a wide perimeter of metal barriers.
Only construction crews, wearing protective outfits to shield from the risk of lead poisoning, can approach and enter the building.
The chief architect of the site says it could still take nine months before experts will even know how stable the remaining parts of the building are, let alone begin with reconstruction.
Riester insisted the deadline was “ambitious and voluntarist” and said it “would bring together all the concerned parties.
“We are not confusing speed and haste,” he said, recognising the cathedral is not yet “completely saved” and there is still “a risk” of further collapse.
Opposition lawmakers however objected to proposals to give the government the ability to approve rebuilding measures by ordonnance and bypass heritage and environmental regulations, not to mention public debate, to meet the five-year deadline.
Swimming pool on the roof?
MPs will also essentially give the legislative green light for the design to be decided in the international architecture competition that the French government announced in the days after the fire.
Traditionalists have called for the spire to be rebuilt as it was before the fire, and the Senate, where the right-wing opposition party Les Républicains holds a majority, wanted the bill to commit to a design faithful to nineteenth-century design of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Their efforts were in vain, opening the way for proposals responding to Macron’s call for a “contemporary architectural gesture”.
Proposals so far have ranged from a glass roof and spire, a rooftop garden and even a swimming pool on top of the 850-year-old gothic edifice.
Framework for donations
The bill will also set up a body to oversee how donations are collected and how funds are allocated.
The legislation will allow an extended tax break to individual donations for this particular project: 75 percent over the usual 66 percent on donations of up to 1000 euros per donor.
Left-wing MPs have objected to the tax break, saying it means that taxpayers will ultimately be footing the bill.
Such donations represent a small part of the 850 million euros pledged to date, the majority of the money offered by France’s wealthiest families.
Riester said that only 10 percent of the total pledged donations have actually been delivered, a figure up from the 5 percent cited by the archbishop of Paris earlier this month.