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[NANTES] Voters in western France gave the go-ahead Sunday to a controversial airport development that has been at the centre of a years-long battle between environmental activists and the government.
The local referendum on the new Nantes Atlantique airport passed with a 55 per cent majority, ending a 50 year argument that saw the government's environment advisers resign in 2014.
Authorities argue that the new airport will provide a major boost to tourism in western France, but environmental campaigners have fiercely opposed the plans to build it on protected swampland just outside Nantes.
"Whether it is yes or no, we have made a decision," said one exasperated voter.
The former mayor of Nantes Jean-Marc Ayrault, a long-time supporter of the project, as well as an ex-prime minister and current foreign minster, praised the voters' decision Sunday evening.
"This is a clear vote on a project that has been so contested, so I think that today the message we can say is: respect the decision of voters from Loire-Atlantique," Mr Ayrault told AFP.
The project involves transferring Nantes Atlantique airport to a 1,650 ha site of protected swampland just outside the city.
Approved in 2008, the 580-million-euro (S$867 million) project had been due to start in 2014 but has been repeatedly delayed by protests, which at their peak attached thousands of people and on occasion deteriorated into clashes with the police.