A British company has upset a rural French community with a surprise announcement to build a “gay village”, the first of its kind.
When the mayor of Sallèles-d’Aude approved plans by a British company for a gated development for the over-50s, he pictured affluent men and women, like those shown hand-in-hand in the brochure, bringing a much-needed financial boost to his corner of rural France.
What he did not envisage was the country’s first “gay village”.
Yves Bastié, the mayor of the community near Narbonne, southern France, was shocked to learn that the retirement development he approved in March will be an “active lifestyle village”.
Called Le Village – Canal du Midi, due to its location near the famous tree-lined canal, a Unesco World Heritage site, the €25 million (£21.9 million) development is intended almost exclusively for homosexuals. “I’m flabbergasted,” said Mr Bastié. “I had absolutely no idea. The least they could have done was to inform me so I could tell my fellow citizens.”
When he agreed the plan, the mayor as shown promotional pictures of heterosexual couples and there was no mention that the project was anything but a purpose-built community for active older residents. But on Monday, the Villages Group website suddenly changed its marketing tune.
The heterosexual couples were replaced with same-sex ones, while the site sported a rainbow flag and announced that the village was to be a ”private oasis” for gays and lesbians who want an “active and healthy lifestyle in the warm, friendly and healthy climate of southern France”.
Danny Silver, the Villages Group managing director said that he had not informed the mayor because the idea to market the project to the homosexual 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. So this wonderful idea [of active lifestyle villages] that is very big in the US and Australia, was turning into a flop,” he said.
“I told my partners that we had a choice – either just close it down for a year and start again next January and hope the market comes back.
“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.”
He discovered that such “gay villages” already existed in Florida, housing 18,000 people, but not in France.
“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 added: “I’m not doing it because I like or dislike gays. I have no opinion. This is a business proposition.”
He insisted that just because it was marketed for gay people did not mean it would be exclusively for a homosexual clientele and that the economic benefits would outweigh any 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.”
When completed, the village will comprise 107 eco-friendly homes with concierge services, swimming pools, saunas, bars and a gym, all part of a secure gated community. The starting price for the houses is €236,000 (£207,000) and residents will have to pay €70 a week in service charges.
The mayor of Sallèles-d’Aude (population 2,580) 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 Mr Bastié, a Socialist, who will preside over the village’s first ever same-sex wedding ceremony next month.