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Green light for 'colossal' renovation of Paris Gare du Nord

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Paris (AFP)

Europe's busiest train station, the bustling Gare du Nord in Paris, appeared set for a colossal facelift after regional authorities on Tuesday approved a divisive 600-million-euro ($678-million) overhaul.

The station accommodates about 700,000 passengers every day, serving as a stop for the Eurostar from London, the Thalys from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, four suburban train lines, and two Paris metros.

Under the much-needed renovation plans, which have angered Paris officials but have the support of the national and regional governments, the 155-year-old edifice will more than triple in size from about 35,000 to 124,000 square metres.

The run-down station wants to better accommodate fast-rising passenger numbers, expected to reach 800,000 daily by 2024 and 900,000 by 2030.

The aim is to finish in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and 2024 Olympics and Paralympics that will draw more throngs to the French capital.

The renovation, said Michel Cadot, prefect of the Ile-de-France region of which Paris is the capital, would allow the Gare du Nord to become "a new setting for urban life, combining commerce, sport, culture and work".

Cadot on Monday approved the issuing of a construction permit for the new and improved Gare du Nord.

The municipality of Paris, which initially backed the renovation but then withdrew its support, reacted angrily to the news.

It believes the project is too focused on commercial space, and not green enough.

"The state decided, against the opinion of the city and its citizens' groups, to authorise the transformation of the Gare du Nord into a shopping centre!" tweeted David Belliard, an ecologist and Paris city councillor.

He said the move was "an absurdity at a time when we so desperately need real renovated railway stations." His message was retweeted by newly re-elected Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

National railway operator SNCF and property developer Ceetrus plan to add some 46,000 square metres in floor space just for shops, offices, a gym, a concert hall and other cultural venues.

The arrivals and departures hall would get an extra 30,000 square metres.

There will be parking for 2,000 bikes, and a planted roof terrace of one hectare with a view over to the Sacre Coeur basilica.

The project was rejected in June last year by a departmental commission that evaluates commercial developments.

Then in October, a national commission that considers appeals against decisions taken at the departmental level, partly overturned that ruling, paving the way for the final approval.

About 20 renowned architects waded into the debate last September, writing in Le Monde newspaper that the project was "inacceptable" and "colossal," and appealing for it to be reconsidered.

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