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Authorities blame one another for ditched airport expansion as environmentalists celebrate

Business sector calls on Catalonia and Spain to not "lose investment" worth €1.7bn

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09 September 2021 10:57 AM

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ACN | Barcelona

Catalan and Spanish authorities have blamed one another for the ditched plans to expand Barcelona's airport – environmentalists, on the other hand, have welcomed the decision.

After months of controversy and opposition from some locals and environmental groups, Spain's transport minister, Raquel Sánchez, announced on Wednesday evening that the project was suspended, citing lacking support from Catalan authorities.

"The deal has been broken over a lack of trust. Moving forward with a project of such magnitude is impossible without full support from the Catalan government," Sánchez said on Wednesday. "Great projects require great consensus at an institutional level."

"Once again, the Spanish government doesn't deliver on its promises to Catalonia," retorted the Catalan vice president, Jordi Puigneró soon afterward. "How are we not supposed to want independence?"

President Aragonès also accused Spain of "blackmail," adding that they "never" were truly willing to invest in Catalonia. On Thursday, he added: "They can't make us choose between investments and preserving our natural heritage."

"The way out is to have the management of the airport transferred to the Catalan administration." 

Also on Thursday, Spain's cabinet member insisted that "it is the Catalan government who has broken the consensus and who has changed its stance."

Both Sánchez and Aena, Spain's public company in charge of managing airports, have said that if the project is not approved by the end of September, the plans will now be postponed for five years until the next five-year Aena investment program begins in 2026.

She also suggested that there will not be any extra public spending in Catalonia to use the amount now frozen.

Agreement and split within a month

The Catalan and Spanish governments agreed to expand the facility on August 2, including building a new satellite terminal and extending one of the existing runways.

The plan also foresaw connecting the Barcelona - El Prat airport with those of Girona and Reus, in the north and south of Catalonia, respectively, with a high-speed railway line.

Yet, on September 3, Aena's final plan for the expansion, which explicitly made mention of construction in the La Ricarda lagoon nature reserve area, was revealed – while Spain said this was already in the August 2 deal, Catalonia said this was not true, demanded explanations, and called for an amendment to the planned expansion.

The day after, the Catalan executive sent a "shared" message that it would not endorse any proposal to expand Barcelona-El Prat Airport that "destroys" the adjacent La Ricarda lagoon.

On Tuesday this week, environmental groups called for a protest on September 19, and the Catalan government spokesperson anticipated that some cabinet members could attend. This move was one of the reasons mentioned by Spain's transport minister for suspending the project.

  • "They can't make us choose between investments and preserving our natural heritage"

    Pere Aragonès · Catalan president

According to the executive in Barcelona, the August 2 agreement was ambiguous enough over where to construct in order to have time to reach a consensus with local authorities, businesses, and environmentalists within the next two years and avoid damaging the nature reserve. For Aragonès, the original deal was to determine the details in the project's master plan, to be discussed in two years. 

Division within both governments

Both governments are somehow divided on the issue. In Madrid, the Socialists are in favor of the expansion, while their junior partner, Unidas Podemos, welcomed that "the expansion is reviewed amid the climate emergency."

In Barcelona, senior government partner Esquerra was increasingly reluctant to go ahead with the investment, especially if it involved construction in the La Ricarda area, while Junts per Catalunya's Puigneró criticized some Esquerra cabinet members who were considering attending the demonstration against the plans. 

Environmentalists welcome decision while businesses lament it

Soon after the plans were suspended, entities such as Greenpeace welcomed the move, saying that what is needed are investments in "sustainable transports" such as the train. The September 19 protest will go ahead despite the latest news. 

Meanwhile, businesses lament the end of negotiations. For instance, the Cercle d'Economia lobby urged authorities to resume talks. "We ask for responsibility. Catalonia needs to progress," the entity tweeted. 

Filling the Sink podcast

Catalan society and local authorities remain divided on the expansion of the facility, with business leaders arguing it is essential for the economy and environmentalists warning against the potential destruction of the Llobregat delta as well as increased carbon emissions.  

Press play below to listen to Catalan News' Filling the Sink podcast episode, released on July 10, on the debate surrounding the Barcelona El Prat airport. 

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