The mayor of Lens wants to destroy a historical monument

View of Lens from the Ecopole
Photo : Hemmer (Wikimedia)
Free licence GNU

When the government and the Ministry of Culture decide to join forces, in an exemplary manner for once, and apply the law protecting historical monuments, we see just how useful it can be. A local elected official, Guy Delcourt, the mayor of Lens, has provided an example of how it pays to remain vigilant.

The story is very edifying and was widely covered in the media, mainly the regional press [1]. While preparing the case for an application of mining cities in the North as a Unesco World Heritage site [2], several of these were accepted for protection as historical monuments, a justifiable move given the importance of this type of dwelling, notably in urban planning. In 2009, nine buildings in Lens associated with the mines were listed. On 1st December 2009 the “school complex, Jean Massé, the former residence of the director of the school, and former headquarters for Cité n° 12” were thus registered. The protection of the school director’s residence did not seem to fall under Guy Delcourt’s good graces as mayor of the city. Indeed, he started its demolition, while daring to denounce : “the dictate of government civil servants who assume the authority of deciding instead of the local elected officials [3].

We are greatly surprised that this stand has not been unanimously denounced by the political class and by the Socialist Party to which Guy Delcourt belongs. This is the same as if Mr. Delcourt had received a fine for a traffic violation and declared that a civil servant could not tell someone how to drive his car, that only a local official has the right to do so. He is in fact mistakenly accusing the architect of the Bâtiments de France of being responsible for the situation. The permit for demolishing a historical monument (a possibility which should not even exist) is issued specifically by the Minister [4]. Clearly, intent on demolishing one of the rare historical monuments in his city [5], the mayor is taking advantage of the situation to unleash another series of attacks against the ABF. We suspect that it is a concerted plan, no matter how unconscious, along with the recent ones perpetrated during the reform of the Zones de Protection du Patrimoine Architectural, Urbain et Paysager. The idea behind them both is the same ; certain elected officials obviously feel that this new statute gives them unlimited rights.

Guy Delcourt’s main argument is pathetic : the buildings in question do not present “an exceptional character [6]”, proving that he does not understand that their interest lies in the ensemble as a whole, their importance to our cultural heritage in the way they are laid out, not to mention their powerful historic and symbolic significance. He has also denounced the delay in constructing low-income housing (we cannot see why since he could simply rehabilitate the ones he wants to destroy) and also, the ultimate argument, brought up the danger to the neighboring houses. This is an issue well known to The Art Tribune readers because it is inevitably raised, usually on erroneous grounds, whenever there is a request to destroy a monument.
Luckily, the demolition was stopped soon after it got underway thanks to a summons issued by the Préfecture and a report drawn up by the Conservateur regional des monuments de France for “demolishing without an authorization”. Although the mayor has interrupted the vandalism in progress (saying he was “amazed by the prompt way in which the government department had reacted” – sic !) [7], he has not abandoned his plans and remains entrenched in his blustering attitude.

The fact that the mayor of Lens has dared to transgress the law by starting to demolish this building is quite edifying. This city whose cultural heritage is practically nonexistent seems determined nevertheless to rid itself of one of its rare historical monuments [8] which might be, thanks to a possible listing as a Unesco World Heritage Site, a way to attract those tourists which are so sorely lacking here. We should remember that the Louvre-Lens, a project which we have opposed since the beginning, was originally designed for this stated purpose, rewarding an elected official who is now proving that he does not really care at all about cultural issues. This only goes to show, absurdly so, once again how the project was based purely on a political decision.

Didier Rykner, dimanche 5 septembre 2010


[1] Mostly in La Voix du Nord ; the articles are available on Internet.

[2] A rather « politically correct » list which might be open to discussion, reflecting a certain tendency towards opportunism since it does not include many major monuments and sites in France as « World Heritage », but this is another subject.

[3] “Le Maire de Lens brave les monuments historiques”, La Gazette des Communes, 1/9/10.”

[4] See here, on the ministry website.

[5] A look at the Palissy database of the Ministry of Culture is very instructive.

[6] Article from La Gazette des Communes quoted in note 3.

[7] « After being fined, the mayor of Lens stops the demolition of the listed building but continues his act of defiance », La Voix du Nord, 21/8/10.

[8] We would like to point out that the mayor, who wanted to destroy the Art Déco façade of the Apollo cinema had been prevented from doing so by the ABF.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in Heritage : What use are the laws protecting historical monuments (4) : the chateau of Hombourg-Budange in Lorraine

Next article in Heritage : The zoo at Vincennes should not disappear !