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Environment

Spain's Supreme court strikes down Madrid car pollution scheme

2 minute read

Local police officers are seen during the first day of a ban on polluting vehicles in the city center as they only allow non-polluting cars with the right sticker, in Madrid, Spain, November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Juan Medina

MADRID, May 11 (Reuters) - Spain's Supreme Court has struck down a ban on polluting cars in Madrid's city centre citing procedural errors, a ruling released on Tuesday showed, meaning the city may have to roll back measures designed to meet EU air quality standards.

The suspension of the so-called Madrid Central scheme, opposed by the city's conservative administration, would go against the trend in European capitals such as Paris and London, which are seeking to keep cars from their downtown areas.

Approved by the previous leftist administration, Madrid Central banned most petrol and diesel cars from the centre as a way to tackle high levels of nitrogen dioxide in Madrid, which had been in violation of European regulations since 2010.

But the conservative People's Party which now controls the municipality in coalition with the centre-right Ciudadanos, had promised to change it, despite a warning from the European Commission that Spain might be sanctioned if it fails to meet air quality standards.

"The Madrid Central plan to create a low emissions zone could be a good idea ... but it was executed in a very shoddy way", deputy mayor Begona Villacis told reporters, adding that the local government has a new plan including a low emissions zone almost ready to be approved.

It was not clear when the court ruling, dated April 29 and released on Tuesday, comes into force.

Since the court rejected an appeal from the environmental group Ecologistas en Accion, there is no longer any legal backing for imposing fines on cars entering a restricted area of around 5 sq km (2 sq miles), the group's spokesman Francisco Segura said.

"This is the Pleistocene," Segura told Reuters, saying the plan had cut emissions by 22% in 2019.

The European Union considers air pollution to be the most severe environmental health problem affecting the region, responsible for around 400,000 premature deaths per year.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Giles Elgood

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