This is a relief for the elected representatives, students and associations who were campaigning against the privatisation of the Grignon estate, a mecca of French agronomy and a campus for AgroParisTech engineers. The State has just suspended its sale to the property developer Altarea Cogedim in order to “take into account the necessary consultation time”.

Mobilisation has paid off. The State, through the voice of the Yvelines prefecture, announced on 15 November in a press release that it was putting an end to its disputed project to sell the Grignon estate (Yvelines), the cradle of French agronomy, to the property developer Altarea Cogedim. “In order to take into account the necessary consultation time, a new procedure for the sale of the AgroParisTech site in Grignon will be launched in the second half of 2022,” said the Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie.

“This is very good news, it is the result of a fight that has lasted for five or six years and which will allow, I hope, to find another future for the Grignon estate,” Georges d’Andlau, co-president of the Grignon 2000 association, which is opposed to this privatisation, reacted to AFP. “Another dialogue will have to be opened with the seller state and local authorities,” he added.

Concrete against biodiversity

The Grignon estate carries the DNA of agronomic learning. Located west of Paris, it dominates with its 17th century castle and hundreds of hectares of forest and farmland. Formerly the headquarters of the Société anonyme de l’Institution Royale Agronomique in 1826, the estate used to house the AgroParisTech school of agricultural engineers and researchers. But the school is due to move to join the Paris-Saclay science park in 2022. And the battle to succeed it on the site is raging.

Last March, students mobilised, fearing that the site would be sold to property developers. “I am devastated at the thought of privatising a public domain for generations. The ecological value of the park is enormous, not only does it allow us to practice directly in the field but it also serves as an object of study in other agronomic schools in France,” said Nora Dollet, a first-year student at AgroParisTech. “Concrete encroachment is endangering an ecosystem and a unique biodiversity. I am very afraid to imagine housing estates being built where we are studying today,” she explained.

“Consensus method”

In September, the fear of students and elected officials became real. The State had in fact selected Altarea Cogedim’s project, which was in competition with the alternative project “Grignon 2026”, supported by an association of former students of the school and the Coeur d’Yvelines community of municipalities. According to information from Médiapart, the business was sold for 18 million euros. But the journalists uncovered a tax exemption scheme for historical monuments and financial arrangements that would have reduced the state’s revenue to nothing.

When contacted by Novethic, the Ministry of Agriculture said it wanted to start again on a sound basis, relying on a “consensus method”. Above all, it indicates that the project to move AgroParisTech to the Saclay centre of excellence is not at all in question. On the way the consensus will be translated, the ministry remains evasive for the moment.