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Mayor of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains Fires Up Environmentalist Wrath

by Nathan Taylor
While the mountains in general, and Mont Blanc in particular, are now being forced to rethink their future and their economic activities in a context of accelerated climate change, some municipalities seem to be taking these considerations rather lightly.
The mayor of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, Jean-Marc Peillex, is no stranger to controversy. Well-known for his pursuit of mass tourism in the alps, ostensibly for environmental concerns and the negative effects of overcrowding on Mont-Blanc, he recently attacked two hikers for camping out on the peak. At the beginning of the year, the mayor lodged a complaint against the "hooligans" who do "silly things" on the mountain... He said he hoped "all these wackos" would be punished. His outspokenness on the issue belies own involvement in questionable construction projects in his town…

Shine a light on the man who cries wolf, and you might be surprised about what you find… This great environmentalist authorised, in 2016, the highly questionable construction of three large luxury chalets for hotels. It took seven years to obtain the legal documents, and several local associations have tried to fight back, including “Respectons la terre”, which on 11 February filed a complaint for the "illegal granting of a building permit and passive corruption"...

As early as November 2021, Laurence Prélot-Mathey, of France Nature Environnement 74, was concerned about a permit granted to "hotels in a natural zone where only residential buildings are authorised by the local planning authority (plan local d’urbanisme - PLU)”.

Moreover, as the papers finally released thanks to the Commission for Access to Administrative Acts (Cada) revealed, the building permit was issued - despite the negative opinion of the town planning services of the commune - for a construction on a single plot. However, the chalets occupy three of them.

Jean-Marc Peillex once again found himself facing down local associations, attacking their interest in ‘building permits’ and apparent disinterest in environmental pollution. This paradoxical position might have something to do with the involvement of multi-millionaire Vincent Gombault (59), ex-boss of the asset management fund Ardian, who has turned to the luxury hotel business and lives in London, from where he runs his brand-new fund Clipway. Vincent Gombault rather generously began donating to the municipality, notably for the renovation of a dozen of the town's chapels (one of which, dating from the 17th century, is a listed building). These donations surprisingly began in March 2016, just six months before a planning permission application was submitted to the PLU for the construction of the chalets!

Jean-Marc Peillex explains: "These chalets are managed by the Armancette hotel, but they are not hotels. They are furnished tourist accommodation with services, authorised by the PLU, like Airbnb rentals." Quasi "Airbnb rentals" including, all the same, in-home chef, daily cleaning, concierge service and chauffeur-driven vehicle. The case has been referred to the Annecy public prosecutor's office. Bending the rules to say the least…
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