A daring mission to transform a lost French mining town into a green oasis

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In the middle of a socialist heartland of north-east France, a Green party mayor is leading an audacious and lonely project to revitalise his former coal-mining town, where unemployment runs above the national average, with the creation of ecology-focussed companies and research centres, and the ecodesign renovation of its private and public buildings. But this isolated development programme, and its promise of future job creations, is a slow and far from complete process which faces a stern test in municipal elections to be held later this month, when the far-right Front National party is forecast to make significant gains. Jade Lindgaard reports from Loos-en-Gohelle.

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Loos-en-Gohelle sits in the far north-east pocket of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais département (equivalent to a county), close to the border with Belgium. Two huge slag heaps, one of them the largest in Europe, tower above it, the heritage of centuries of mining activity that ceased in the region in 1990, and which has seen little industrial relay.