Thousands of protesters hit the streets of Madrid on Saturday, to display their opposition towards the new conservative city halls plans to suspend restrictions on highly polluting cars.
The decision by the recently elected mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida of the People’s Party, has raised concerns among citizens that similar rollbacks seen in the USA are spreading.
The decision by the new mayor has seen backing from other parties, including centrist Ciudadanos and the far-right VOX, in the suspension of the ‘Madrid Central’ plan.
In late November, the ‘Madrid Central’ plan established a low-emission zone whereby all petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and diesel vehicles registered before 2006 will be banned from the area; with a few exceptions. Fines were levied on drivers who broke these rules, amounting to around £80.
The goal was to cut nitrogen dioxide levels by 23% in 2020 and ensuring that people were placed at the centre of the transport policy.
Other major cities have enforced similar policies, such as Hamburg, Mexico City and Paris.
The policy, in Madrid, was aimed at ensuring the city complied with the EU’s clean air rules.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) last year warned air pollution causes almost 500,000 premature deaths in Europe every year.
The report did state that pollution levels were showing improvements slowly, but that they remained significantly higher than the EU and World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
Mariano Sánchez Bayle, a retired paediatrician, told Spanish newspaper El País: “Pollution is one of the most important health problems now.”
Recent reports have suggested the plan has reduced air pollution to historic lows, however despite this progress the restrictions will be lifted from 1st July.
The restriction will be lifted while the new city hall reviews the plan, in order to make it “compatible with citizens’ mobility needs”.
There have been warnings from the European Commission, of the possibility of sanctions and a lawsuit if air quality standards are not met in Spain’s largest cities- Madrid and Barcelona.