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The right redoubles the pulse against the low emission zones: Badalona reverses theirs, already in force

2023-09-18T22:15:49.375Z

Highlights: City Council of Badalona will request a three-year moratorium on the application of fines in its low emissions zone (ZBE) The Climate Change Law requires that the 151 Spanish municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants already have one of these restricted traffic areas. The Government announces that the municipality will have to return the two million euros of European aid granted for the initiative if they do not launch the project as they had committed. The Ministry for the Ecological Transition responds: "It's the worst example of denialism and regression"


The Government announces that the municipality will have to return the two million euros of European aid granted for the initiative if they do not launch the project as they had committed


The right consummates its rebellion against the Low Emission Zones (LEZs). The mayor of Badalona, Xavier García Albiol (PP), announced on Monday that the City Council of Badalona – which presides with an absolute majority since last June – will approve in the next plenary session to request a three-year moratorium on the application of fines in its low emissions zone (ZBE), which came into force this year and planned to fine from January 1, 2024. The Climate Change Law requires that the 151 Spanish municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants already have one of these restricted traffic areas, although for now only 14 have it (including Badalona). The central government responds that it will audit all the projects financed by the European Next Generation funds – two million euros in the case of Badalona – that the municipality will have to return if they do not start the project as they had committed.

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The Government increases the pressure on cities that have not yet started their low-emission zones

Low emission zones (LEZs) are areas, mostly located in city centres, in which the circulation or parking of older vehicles is limited, according to the label system of the Directorate General of Traffic (DGT). Those cars and motorcycles without a label are usually forbidden access (at certain times, or at any time), cars with labels B or C may have (or not) some restriction, while the Eco and Zero (electric) can circulate without problems. They serve to improve air quality and the health of citizens.

The usual thing is that the LEZ are launched with an information period, without fines, but after a few months they begin to fine offenders. This was the case with Madrid Central – the first area of its kind in Spain – where in 2019 the newly elected mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, tried to implement a moratorium on fines that judges knocked down "to protect health and the environment".

The ordinance that accompanies the LEZ of Badalona establishes that cars without an environmental label of the DGT cannot circulate on weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to 20:00 p.m. Initially, to the offending vehicles, the City Council is sending them informative letters warning that from next January 1 it will begin to fine. The penalty is 200 euros for cars with up to eight seats and motorcycles (with a 30% increase for repeat offenders). The initial idea was that seven months later, from July 1, 2024, vans, trucks and buses would also be sanctioned.

Now, the mayor of Badalona paralyzes this plan, which remains in the air. "We approved postponing until 2027 the entry into force of the LEZ in Badalona – which had to enter into force on January 1, 2024. You can not punish the neighbors to change the car in the middle of such a difficult economic moment, "he said in a message on the social network X (formerly Twitter). Albiol, who hopes to approve the measure in plenary on September 25, has also stressed that his government is working to improve air quality and "committed to sustainability and health" of the city.

The Ministry for the Ecological Transition responds. "It's the worst example of denialism and regression. Making it known just in the week of mobility shows that the health of its citizens brings them without care, "says a spokeswoman to EL PAÍS. And he warns: "The City Council of Badalona has received European funds to implement its low emission zones. The Government will supervise all the projects and they will have to return the amounts if they do not implement them in a timely manner."

Pollution deaths

In fact, the Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, has also criticized the measure: "The mayor of the PP, against the law and the health of the neighbors, celebrates the week of European mobility recognizing that he does not plan to do anything for public transport in his city or for non-motorized mobility. Of the money received for the LEZ and public transport, no peep," he said in X. Air pollution kills 200 people in Badalona every year, according to figures from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. The announcement also coincides with the warning of PM10 particle pollution – caused mostly by cars – in the metropolitan area of Barcelona.

The mayor of the PP, against the law and the health of the neighbors, celebrates the week of European mobility recognizing that he does not plan to do anything for public transport in his city or for non-motorized mobility. Of the money received for the LEZ and public transport, not even a pious https://t.co/kHeX3ONpfE

— Teresa Ribera 🌹 (@Teresaribera) September 18, 2023

According to data from the Ministry of Transport, the Consistory has received almost two million European Next Generation funds for sustainable mobility measures, including more than one million for the implementation of the LEZ, 540,000 euros for the urbanization of the surroundings of the Can Ruti Campus Interchange, and more than 300,000 for the improvement of the efficiency of the bus network of the town. In total, 1.9 million, of which the City Council has already received 1.3 million. It is those funds that are at risk. In the case of the ZBE action, the Badalona City Council, in its latest report referring to the first half of 2023, to which EL PAÍS has had access, reports that the action was not yet completed, but it had already been tendered and awarded.

The move has unnerved environmentalists. "The approach of Badalona is unacceptable, they are breaking the law," denounces Miguel Ángel Ceballos, spokesman on the matter of Ecologists in Action. "There is a legal and moral obligation on the part of municipalities to protect the health of citizens, and delaying an essential measure for air quality as the LEZ leaves their most vulnerable citizens, such as children, the elderly and people with cardiorespiratory diseases, unassisted," he continues. And he concludes: "This type of unsubmissive attitudes towards compliance with the Climate Change Law seems infamous to us. We are going to study administrative and judicial actions."

Right front against traffic restrictions

Badalona's decision is framed on the front of the right against traffic restrictions. Thus, Gijón has once again allowed cars without a label (the oldest) to park and has announced that it will reduce its future limited traffic area to its minimum expression, something that Valladolid will also do; while Castellón and Lorca (Murcia) have asked for a moratorium to install them later. Majadahonda (Madrid) and Elche announced at the beginning that they refused to implement them, although now they say they will comply with the law.

Ecological Transition launched a few days ago a tool to see the state of the LEZ in Spain. For now, there are only 14 in force (some with fines, others without), including Badalona. Around 120 localities are already working to implement theirs. Meanwhile, another 18 have not even started the procedures (or have not notified the ministry): these are Tres Cantos (Madrid), Valdemoro (Madrid), Motril (Granada), Barakaldo (Bizkaia), Ferrol (A Coruña), Cerdanyola del Vallès (Barcelona), Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz), El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz), Mijas (Málaga), Calvià (Mallorca), Orihuela (Alicante), Aranjuez (Madrid), Coslada (Madrid), Arganda del Rey (Madrid), Telde (Gran Canaria), San Cristóbal de la Laguna (Tenerife), Granadilla de Abona (Tenerife) and Arona (Tenerife).

Controversy with traffic restrictions

Low emission zones are often controversial in the beginning, although later most citizens see their positive effects in reducing traffic and improving air quality. The PP denounced Madrid Central in court and obtained its annulment, although in the end it ended up applying a similar restriction and even improved it later.

Meanwhile, Barcelona was the second city in Spain to implement an LEZ. Its implementation, announced in 2018 and in force since 2020, was very controversial and since before entering into force changes were applied in the initial design. Among other issues, permits were adjusted so that families without resources who have cars without labels and need them to work could circulate; or the moratoriums for special vehicles (funeral, street vending) or requiring large investments, such as coaches or trucks of great tonnage, were extended.

Already applied, the Barcelona model was the one that inspired the ministry to extend its implementation in the municipalities of more than 50,000 inhabitants throughout Spain. Despite all this, the contentious-administrative chamber of the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) annulled the ordinance of the Barcelona LEZ in March 2022. The annulment, appealed by former mayor Ada Colau before the Supreme Court, responded to six appeals filed by 10 associations or guilds (mostly linked to the motor or the transport of people or goods), which were debated jointly by the court.

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Source: elparis

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