Court annuls Barcelona’s Low Emission Zone regulation

Council says ruling getting rid of restriction on old cars does not need to be implemented as it can still be appealed

Traffic signs indicating Barcelona's Low Emissions Zone on December 23, 2019
Traffic signs indicating Barcelona's Low Emissions Zone on December 23, 2019 / Àlex Recolons

ACN | Barcelona

March 21, 2022 03:32 PM

The High Court of Catalonia has annulled the Barcelona City Council’s Low Emission Zone regulation, which restricts the access of older and more polluting cars into the city. 

The court struck out the regulation arguing there are not enough studies on the matter. The High Court also ruled that the Catalan capital ordinance surpassed their city jurisdiction and there are some deficiencies in the types of vehicles excluded from entering Barcelona.

The court has accepted six appeals presented by 10 different organizations in Barcelona affected by the Low Emissions Zone. The city council can appeal the decision. 

Low Emission Zones are specific areas that restrict the circulation of older, more polluting vehicles, and Barcelona adopted the regulation on January 1, 2020

The measure is estimated to affect some 50,000 vehicles in the Catalan capital and sees fines given to drivers whose vehicles are not allowed to enter the Low Emission Zone at certain times of the day.

The decision arrives days after the Catalan government announced on March 18, that all towns of more than 20,000 inhabitants would be Low Emissions Zones by 2025.

Under Spanish law, any town or city with more than 50,000 inhabitants are required to be Low Emission Zones, as well as those with populations over 20,000 that already had high emission levels, but the new Catalan government document extends the rule to those towns with more than 20,000 inhabitants and low levels of pollution. 

Ruling in force from Tuesday midnight

The ruling by the High Court of Catalonia will come into force on Tuesday at midnight as the sentence is of "immediate enforcement," the verdict reads - the Barcelona council, however, has stated that this is not the case as the ruling can still be appealed. 

The court recognizes that the European Union has condemned Barcelona’s air quality, and is not against the city council intervention, but proposed measures should be proportionate.

The verdict says that the system used to classify older cars and the newest ones, a sticker assigned to each vehicle by Spain's Directorate General of Traffic (DGT), is a "rigid" system.

The stickers do not allow any other "alternative method for the vehicles to get or improve their classification." Meaning that all those vehicles without a DGT sticker will need to be renewed. 

The condition affects the economical capacity of each road user, as those with lower incomes, cannot renew their vehicle.

The stickers are assigned depending on the different emission levels each vehicle emits. There are four different stickers, a blue one for 0-emissions, a blue and green one for those less polluting cars, a green sticker, and finally a yellow one for the most polluting vehicles. The ones that do not have a sticker, were not allowed to circulate in Barcelona.