Controversial Barcelona Airport Expansion Plan Approved | Barcelona
The Spanish and Catalan governments have agreed to a controversial Barcelona airport expansion plan that would increase passenger numbers from 55 million to 70 million per year.
The € 1.7 billion plan, funded by Aena, the Spanish airport authority, is facing opposition from Barcelona city council. It will have to be approved by the European Commission, which has already condemned an earlier expansion carried out in the protected wetlands of the Llobregat Delta.
The city council had previously condemned the proposal as “a bacchanal of sectors blocked in the past”.
Announcing the deal, Raquel Sánchez, Minister of Transport, said the expansion would be “with maximum respect for the environment” and promote “sustainable and quality tourism”. The work is expected to be completed by 2030.
Pere Aragonés, the Catalan regional president, said it was essential that the plan move forward if Barcelona did not “miss the train of the future”. Barcelona City Hall, meanwhile, wants all journeys under 2.5 hours to be made by train.
Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, described claims that the expansion would benefit the local economy as “a big lie”. The airport expansion was part of an outdated model that has benefited “a handful of businesses and speculators” and encouraged massive tourism, she said. “What we need is a forward-looking economy.
A large part of the Llobregat Delta is protected by the Nature Network 2000 program of the European Union. The plan provides for the extension of a runway in the protected area of La Ricarda, as well as the construction of a third terminal.
In May, the European Commission sent a letter to the Spanish and Catalan governments in which it complained that “the adoption and implementation of a special plan for the protection of natural areas and the landscape of the Llobregat Delta, and an extension of the special protected zone to protect the territories most favorable to the conservation of birds, have not been sufficiently followed ”.
José García, vice-president of environmental NGO Depana, said the plan goes against the policies of the Spanish and Catalan governments on sustainable development. “A lot of this is posture so that everyone can say he came out a winner,” he said, saying the deal came out of the first in a series of meetings aimed at defusing the Catalan conflict.
He likened the deal to getting a building permit for a house you can’t afford to build. The reality, he said, is that the travel industry, on which Spain relies heavily, is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, or maybe never, and that Aena is unable to find 1.7 billion euros.
“It’s like the emperor’s clothes,” García said. “No one is ready to admit the truth.”
Elena Mayoral, head of airport planning for Aena, said in a written response that international air transport organizations expect “the return of traffic to pre-pandemic levels to occur between 2025 and 2026, when the expansion works begin “.
When asked why a city of 1.6 million people needed an airport that could carry 70 million passengers, she replied: “The large number of European destinations at the airport makes it home to intercontinental links. The largest hub in Europe is located in a city of around 800,000 inhabitants: Amsterdam. The vast majority of connecting passengers, 70%, come from outside the Iberian Peninsula.
Critics say that aside from the environmental impact of the proposed expansion, Catalonia already has three underutilized airports in Girona, Reus and Lleida.