Madrid's new conservative mayor to cut low-emission scheme

James Badcock
Right-wing politicians argue that the traffic is a quintessential part of the city - www.alamy.com

Madrid’s new conservative mayor has provoked outrage by moving immediately to suspend a low-emission scheme that had reduced traffic and air pollution in the Spanish capital.

Popular Party (PP) Mayor Jose Martinez-Almeida, who secured his position on the weekend at the helm of a coalition, on Tuesday began to dismantle Madrid Central, a scheme that only allows electric vehicles and residents’ cars unlimited access to the city centre.

The move was criticised by environmentalists who claim it would set up a clash with EU, while undoing restrictions that had made the fume-choked city more liveable.

Under Madrid Central low-emission vehicles are permitted do as they please in the city centre, while petrol or diesel cars cannot park on ordinary streets but must instead find car-parks.  

“It’s a failure and we are going to start to change the model with a moratorium on fines, starting on July 1,” Mr Martínez-Almeida said on local radio station Onda Madrid.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a politician in PP, said the traffic was an important part of Madrid. "It is a sign identity of our city, that the street is always alive," she told El País.  

But supporters of Madrid Central point out that since it was introduced last year, levels of nitrogen dioxide have fallen by 48 per cent in the central zone, contributing to an overall drop of 16 per cent across the capital.

Environmentalists and Spanish authorities have warned Madrid’s new mayor that European Union rules on emissions may turn his first policy into a farce.

“If Madrid Central is removed, the city council would have to come up with a plan that is as or more restrictive on polluting vehicles to guarantee air quality,” Adrián Fernández of Greenpeace told the newspaper El País.

“No one in Europe would understand such a move,” said Pere Navarro, head of Spain’s DGT road traffic authority, given that Madrid Central was introduced in response to repeated threats by Brussels to punish Spain over high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the capital.

Mr Martínez-Almeida took over as mayor from charismatic 75-year-old former judge and Left-wing politician Manuela Carmena, whose Podemos-backed Más Madrid group won May’s local election, but fell just short of a majority.

The PP has agreed to govern Madrid in coalition with liberal Ciudadanos, while also receiving the backing of ultra-conservative Vox. The latter is threatening to withdraw its support in Madrid over not being given government posts it claims to have been promised.