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Public partners take the course of river tourism

One year after the signing of an objectives and performance contract (COP) between the State and Voies navigables de France (VNF), on April 30, 2021 for a period of ten years, partnerships are flowing between the territories and the state operator of the canals. Backed by around 3 billion euros of investment by 2030 devoted to river infrastructure, “the COP included a new ambition: to put VNF ​​at the service of the territories. This is why partnerships are multiplying, on different approaches, with many local authorities”, explains the general manager of VNF, Thierry Guimbaud.

A Canal du Midi territorial brand

Thus, the Occitanie region, departments (Aude, Haute-Garonne, Hérault and Tarn) and around twenty intercos, under the aegis of an open agreement, have created the territorial brand Canal du Midi allowing them to promote together the asset represented by this UNESCO World Heritage route. “The strategic committee met in May, around the president of the Occitanie region, Carole Delga [PS], and about fifty people to prepare a giant picnic which will take place at the beginning of the summer on the linear of the canal”, he indicates. In the Grand Est region, a “hat agreement” was signed between the State, the region and VNF, in order to develop projects on four major canals in the Ardennes, Meuse, Vosges and Lorraine (see above ). In Hauts-de-France, the Sambre à l’Oise canal reopened its floodgates last summer thanks to a governance approach shared between the Nord department and seven EPCIs.

“Whatever the device, the bottle does not matter, what interests us is to rediscover the intoxication of river development. The models are a little different from one territory to another, but the aim is not to design a formal garden of canal contracts. We are here to support a dynamic. On these subjects, we need local governance, project pilots, ”he insists.

If there was a “hole in the racket” in the Burgundy – Franche-Comté region, it is being filled. Where there was hardly any partnership dynamic, apart from the “river territory charter” created on the initiative of the Rives-de-Saône community of municipalities (38 municipalities, 20,500 inhabitants, Côte-d’ Gold), and signed a year ago with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the region, VNF and the Banque des Territoires, now the partnerships are multiplying. A tourism development contract was signed for the Canal du Center in March, between the region, the department of Saône-et-Loire and the four EPCIs concerned.

New assets in the light of transitions

“The community of communes of the Dijon plain [22 communes, 22 000 hab., ­Côte-d’Or] has just validated the launch of a territorial river charter [CFT]. We met the services of Dijon metropolis [23 communes, 253 900 hab.] to present the approach and the method to them, in order to draw up specifications for a CFT, which will very soon be presented to elected officials”, explains Nicolas Vadrot, head of the “waterway development” department at VNF, for the region. Others could follow, because another CFT specifications should be submitted in September to the elected representatives of the CC of Pouilly en Auxois – Bligny-sur-Ouche (47 municipalities, 8,600 inhabitants, Côte-d’Or) and the Creusot-Montceau urban community (34 municipalities, 93,100 inhabitants, Saône-et-Loire) is interested.

After the pandemic, and at a time when priorities are changing in the light of transitions, waterways that seemed neglected appear as new assets, particularly through a cross-cutting approach: water resources, heritage and tourism.

“It’s about giving a future to a number of channels with low freight traffic”

Frank Menonvillesenator (UDI) of the Meuse, regional councilor of the Grand Est

“We signed an agreement in February between the State, VNF and the Grand Est region, where I have been in charge of the river file for a year. It is a question of restoring a future to a certain number of canals which are dying out due to their low level of river freight traffic: the canals of the Ardennes, the Meuse, the Vosges and the Rhône to the Rhine Branch South.

On the one hand, VNF ensures the replenishment of water, on the other, the investments necessary to maintain tourist activity are shared 50% for the region, 20% for VNF and the rest by the actors, departments and EPCI, depending on the territories. The leaders are often the departments but, in the Vosges, it is the community of agglomeration of Epinal. The tourist potential is enormous, in the north-south but also east-west axis. My region does not get involved if there is no real territorial project. The communities are completely integrated. »

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