Spanish judge blocks Madrid council bid to lift car ban

FILE PHOTO - A Spanish flag flutters in the air as the capital of Spain is seen from the observatory deck of Madrid's city hall August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

MADRID (Reuters) - A judge on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Madrid’s new conservative council to lift restrictions on cars entering the city center, saying the measure should be maintained for now.

The council, which took office following local elections in the spring and is led by the conservative People’s Party, suspended the scheme on July 1 pending modifications to it.

That act marked the first reversal of an environmental regulation in a major European city and triggered protests and an appeal by environmental groups.

Under the low-emission scheme introduced by Madrid’s previous left-wing council, only certain vehicles - primarily electric and hybrid cars - were permitted to enter the restricted central area of around five sq km (two sq miles). Other cars doing so without authorization were subject to fines.

In a preliminary ruling, the local court said the fines should stay in place while magistrates look into the case in more detail, as suspending them would have an immediate impact on the environment that could not be reversed.

“The municipal agreement does not offer any alternative to replace the suppression of the low-emission zone,” the court judge said.

The council has 15 days to decide whether to appeal.

Reporting by Elena Rodriguez; Editing by Ingrid Melander; and John Stonestreet