Enlarge image

Citizens of Grünheide at an information event about the plant expansion: “The place is completely torn apart”

Photo: Christophe Gateau / dpa

The citizens of Grünheide near Berlin voted on the US electric car manufacturer's plans to expand the factory site. The deadline ended on Friday, but the result will not be announced until Tuesday. It is already clear: there is a lot of interest. There have been protests against expansion for several months - but supporters are also speaking out.

“We know that we have a very good turnout,” says Mayor Arne Christiani. “We can see that in the envelopes that come back.” Participation is more than 60 percent. All Grünheide residents over 16 who have lived in the community for at least three months were allowed to vote.

Tesla wants to expand its 300-hectare factory site by around 170 hectares in order to build a freight yard, warehouses and a company kindergarten. To achieve this, more than 100 hectares of forest will be cleared. The company sees great benefits for the region if the development plan were approved. In Tesla's opinion, freight traffic could be relieved with the factory station. It is also about more delivery security with storage space - Tesla recently had to suspend car production for around two weeks because parts could not be delivered on time after attacks by Houthi rebels on freighters in the Red Sea.

Transport Minister promotes Tesla

The community representatives' decision on the development plan is still pending. Although the residents' vote is not binding for the municipal council, it is considered an important milestone. The state parliament's finance committee would also have to approve a sale of the area.

Tesla promoted the planned expansion to residents at several events in Grünheide - including in its factory. Brandenburg's Transport Minister Rainer Genilke warned that the plans would fail. Canceling the development plan would significantly slow down infrastructure development in the region and prevent trucks from shifting to rail, the ministry said in a statement.

Conservationists and citizens' initiatives consider the expansion to be wrong. Among other things, they point out that forest needs to be cleared and part of the site is in a water protection area. The Grünheide anti-Tesla citizens' initiative opposed the expansion with posters, leaflets and door-to-door conversations. “Let’s ensure that Grünheide doesn’t get choked by traffic and become a permanent construction site and industrial city,” says the initiative’s information newspaper.

Conflicting camps

"The place is completely torn apart," says Steffen Schorcht from the citizens' initiative. That is the experience from door-to-door conversations. He cares about the environment. Schorcht warns that no forest should be cleared in the water protection area. He criticizes the fact that the community has submitted an application for exemption from requirements in the water protection area.

But there are also supporters in the region: several students are running a campaign to promote the expansion of Tesla. Grünheide should remain a place of progress, they demand on the Internet. "Our concern is not unfounded: We do not want to grow up in a world in which progress is stopped by groundless rejection."

In addition to the planned expansion of the site, Tesla is aiming to expand the factory on the existing site. The company wants to double production capacity from the current target of 500,000 cars a year to one million. Around 12,500 employees currently work there, who recently produced 6,000 cars a week - that corresponds to 300,000 vehicles a year.

mik/dpa AFX