Gay haven plan jolts villagers

By Henry Samuel in Paris

An artist's impression of the village being marketed to homosexuals.
An artist's impression of the village being marketed to homosexuals.

A British company has dumbfounded a corner of rural southern France after making a surprise announcement to build a 25 million ($41.7 million) "gay village".

Yves Bastie, the mayor of Salleles-d'Aude, near Narbonne, approved plans for a gated village for the over-50s last March.

But this week he said he was shocked to learn the promoters had changed their plans for the "active lifestyle village".

The development, called Le Village - Canal du Midi, because of its location near the Unesco World Heritage canal, is intended almost exclusively for homosexuals.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Bastie. "I had absolutely no idea. The least they could have done was to inform me so I could tell my fellow citizens."

When he gave the green light to the plan for 107 eco-friendly homes the mayor was shown promotional pictures of heterosexual couples.

But this week the Villages Group website changed its marketing tune. The heterosexual couples were replaced with same-sex ones, while the site sported a rainbow flag and announced the village was to be a "private oasis" for gays and lesbians.

Villages Group managing director Danny Silver said he had not informed the mayor because the idea to market the project to the gay community only came to him on Monday.

"It has been a disaster selling properties this year - in 40 years I've never seen anything like it," he said. "So this wonderful idea [of active lifestyle villages] that is very big in the US and Australia, was turning into a flop.

"Then, please don't ask me why, perhaps because gay marriage has been so much in the news, I suddenly thought on Monday: what about the gays? It was an experiment, the last toss of the coin.

"Our own notary told me, 'Your licence makes it clear you have to sell to people over the age of 50, but makes no mention of [who they are aimed at]'. It's the same programme, just a different audience."

He insisted that just because it was marketed for gays did not mean it would be exclusively for a homosexual clientele and the economic benefits would outweigh initial concerns.

"We're talking about 25 million of foreign investment, 40 to 60 local jobs and local builders working there for the next two years," he said.

"The benefits are huge, and now we have the planning permission signed and sealed, and with the huge amount of interest we've received in just two days, this project is definitely going ahead."

By yesterday the mayor appeared to have got over his initial shock to back the plan.

"We can cancel [planning permission] for administrative reasons, but not on moral grounds," said Bastie, who will preside over the village's first same-sex wedding next month.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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