CALAIS – Jacques Gounon is very happy. The CEO of the Eurotunnel Group has just announced the launch of a huge real-estate project in Sangatte, on France's northern coast.
If the name rings a bell to newspaper readers, it is because Sangatte is where up until 2002, there was a massive refugee center, housing asylum seekers trying to get into the UK via the Channel Tunnel. The Eurotunnel Group holds the concession to operate the Channel Tunnel until 2086.
Refugees near Sangatte in June 2002 - Source: Sangatte, 10 ans qu"ça se gâte : faut qu"ça change
The new 160-hectare resort will comprise of 40 hectares of residential accommodation and hotels, a spa, retail area and a 121-hectare international tournament standard golf course built by Kyle Phillips. It is strategically located right next to the Channel tunnel and very easy to access (five minutes away from the main highways) and geared toward British clients, who are known golf enthusiasts.
Gounon qualifies his project as a “costal eco-village” that will promote sustainable development. For instance, the resort will recycle heat from the Channel Tunnel and produce green energy using grass mowed on the golf course.
The project will cost 161 million euros – not including the golf course – 29 million of which will be invested by Eurotunnel. The group has announced that it was going to open tenders to local companies to boost the local economy. Gounon hopes that the first part of the project will be finished in 2015-2016, but says “the number of administrative obstacles to turn this into a quality project are absolutely extravagant.” Nearby, the Eurotunnel Group has already built the Cité Europe, one of the biggest shopping malls in Europe, which employs 2,500 people.
Everyone is not happy with the group’s voracious appetite in the region. Eurotunnel’s purchase of assets from liquidated operator SeaFrance created worries in the local economy where cross-Channel crossings are a vital element. With its purchase of SeaFrance ferries, which it now leases to MyFerryLink, the Eurotunnel Group has become a dominant player in an already crowded cross-Channel transport market. French competition authorities approved the deal, but that is not the case of the UK Competition Commission, whose preliminary report said that MyFerryLink created “a substantial lessening of competition” in the market.
The group also won in 2010 a seven-year license to operate the port of Dunkirk’s 200-kilometer railway system but last month, abandoned its bid for the ports of Calais and Boulogne.