Spain suspends Barcelona airport expansion plans over lack of support from Catalan government
Madrid withdraws 1.7 billion euro investment following backlash from environmentalists
The Spanish government has suspended a 1.7 billion euro investment plan aimed at expanding the Barcelona airport after the Catalan government put the project into question over environmental concerns.
The planned expansion, which was expected to boost the local economy and increase the number of passengers from 53 to 70 million a year, was seen as a potential threat to La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve located south of Barcelona.
Spain's Transport minister, Raquel Sánchez, held a press conference on Wednesday to explain that the expansion plan was being withdrawn due to a lack of support from Catalan authorities.
"Moving forward with a project of such magnitude is impossible without full support from the Catalan government"
Raquel Sánchez · Spain's Transport minister
"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."
Sánchez rejected claims that the planned expansion threatened La Ricarda and argued that the project abided by EU environmental regulations.
"As a minister, but also as a Catalan, I feel like we've lost a great opportunity to help not only Catalonia, but also Spain," said Sánchez.
According to the minister, the expansion would have increased the airport's contribution to the Catalan GDP from 6.8 to 9%.
Catalan government criticizes 'unilateral' decision
The vice president of the Catalan government, Jordi Puigneró, spoke later on Wednesday to accuse Spanish authorities of "disloyalty" and acting "unilaterally."
"Once again, the Spanish government doesn't deliver on its promises to Catalonia," he said. "How are we supposed to not want independence?"
Catalan president Pere Aragonès described the Spanish government's surprise announcement as "blackmail", and said that they "never" were truly willing to invest in Catalonia.
Members of Catalonia's coalition government are divided over the planned expansion. Puigneró, the highest-ranking official of the Junts per Catalunya party, who led negotiations with the Spanish government, argued that the project did not threaten La Ricarda lagoon, but Aragonès and members of the Esquerra party had openly criticized it, even suggesting that they might attend a protest called by environmentalist groups.
In his press conference, Puigneró regretted the "frivolousness" and "populism" that "once again have harmed Catalonia", and said that progress can't be achieved if essential infrastructure projects are put into question.
Filling the Sink podcast
Catalan society and local authorities are divided on the issue, with business leaders arguing it is essential for the economy while environmentalists warn against the destruction of the Llobregat delta and 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 airport expansion plans.