On Tuesday 14 November, Rocher Mistral and Vianney d’Alençon appeared before the criminal court in Aix-en-Provence to answer for the countless breaches of the heritage, town planning and environmental laws committed against the Château de la Barben and its surroundings.
We refer you to the lengthy investigation we carried out in 2021 and the fourteen articles we published on this subject to find out the ins and outs of this sad affair. We could have come back to this on numerous occasions, because the whole thing has gone on ever since, albeit somewhat hampered by these legal proceedings.
That Vianney d’Alançon should proclaim himself a herald of heritage in his defence is fair enough. That there are a number of journalists in right-wing media who dare to claim that this is the case and that he is being bullied by evil opponents is quite grotesque. To read, as in this article in Entreprendre that "corporatism and bureaucracy are lining up to put obstacles in the way [of a] 37 year-old creator full of hope and ambition" or, on the far-right blog Le Salon Beige that he is being "judicially harassed" when he should be getting "minimum recognition" is absolutely intolerable.
Vianney d’Alençon is not a heritage lover, he is a heritage destroyer who will stop at nothing to advance his cause. The debates that took place in court were overwhelming in this respect. Frédéric Aubanton, the Architecte des bâtiments de France (ABF), set the scene. Firstly, that the château had been purchased in September 2019, and that the owner, who had bought it in order to carry out these very extensive alterations, had not come to see the Regional Department of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) until several months later. If the ABF had been contacted earlier, particularly before the acquisition, he could have explained that the site was the last place to set up an amusement park, from both a site and safety point of view. But Vianney d’Alançon only operates by carrying out work without authorisation in the hope that it can then be "regularised". As if everything could be regularised, which is obviously not the case. Frédéric Aubanton also pointed out that the work carried out to date is just a foretaste of what is planned for the future. An initial planning permission was refused twice, by the prefect under the environmental code and by the ABF under the heritage code. The Town Hall is currently examining another application for planning permission (until the end of 2024), which is not very different from the first.
At least two aspects of the project were not addressed in this trial. Firstly, the scandalous alterations to the interior of the château, which we mentioned in this article, were not the subject of a report by the regional conservation authority for historic monuments until last June. Here again, Vianney d’Alançon is waiting for "regularisations" in order to force through the policy of fait accompli. It is to be hoped that the DRAC will do the only right thing: refuse to accept the regularisations and demand that the building be returned to its original state. This shouldn’t be difficult, since Vianney d’Alançon has claimed that his developments are reversible and can even be "dismantled in 35 minutes", which is totally laughable to anyone who has been able to visit them, which we did.
Secondly, the extension to the outdoor theme park is the subject of the planning permission referred to above. The public prosecutor pointed out that it was untenable and would never be authorised by the courts. We also wonder why the DDTM (Direction Départementale des Territoires et de la Mer) gave a favourable opinion to this planning permission. However, the president of the court indicated that on the day of the hearing he had received a letter from the DDTM requesting that all the infringements that were the subject of today’s hearing be restored, which is obviously incompatible with the future development. Many observers concluded that the prefect had taken over from the sub-prefect who, until recently, seemed to be in charge.
The prosecutor’s indictment was implacable: he demanded a fine of 150,000 euros for the Rocher Mistral company and 20,000 euros for Vianney d’Alançon, and the restoration of the site to its original state (in particular by removing the car parks, the stage and commercial installations in the vegetable garden, the base camp, and the developments in the areas originally occupied by the bats. ...), all within a period of eight months, with penalty payments of 150 euros per day for the company and 10 euros per day for Vianney d’Alançon. If the judgement, to be handed down on 13 February 2024, were to follow these demands, the park would have to close, future development could not take place and the facilities in the château would become useless and could, under the threat of another trial, be withdrawn.
We have high hopes of justice, and if it were to be handed down in this way, we wonder what Rocher Mistral would do next. It will of course be able to appeal, but the prosecutor has reiterated his relative leniency, pointing out that "the maximum penalty could be €112 million", since this is €30,000 per square metre concerned! So, a word to the wise!
It is important for justice to be merciless in this case. A clear-cut conviction would both save the château and send a clear signal to all those who vandalise our heritage.