The future of Madrid Central is in the air. In September, the ruling that liquidates the ordinance that launched the largest restricted traffic zone in Spain will be effective. The municipal government of José Luis Martínez-Almeida (PP) is preparing a new text, but the support of the Plenary is not guaranteed. PP and Ciudadanos, the government partners, need external support. Vox, his crutch so far, refuses to give them to him. Neither More Madrid nor the PSOE. But politics sometimes finds unsuspected paths and the four councilors carmenistas splinters from the group led by Rita Maestre negotiate their favorable vote with the mayor himself, which would allow the ordinance to be carried out. A paradoxical situation to which the mayor José Manuel Calvo (Madrid, 1984) responds in a telephone interview with elDiario.es.
Almeida stumbles over his mobility policies
“We are not going to allow the people of Madrid to lose our area of low emissions”, summarizes the one who was responsible for Sustainable Urban Development in the Government of Manuela Carmena. “The dilemma is to consolidate Central Madrid or go back 20 years in the policy of restricting traffic,” he adds. Calvo explains that they will establish conditions to deepen sustainable mobility, which clashes with the proposals that led Almeida to the Mayor’s Office and that he has later tried to clarify.
Calvo maintains that the main political beneficiary if Madrid Central falls will be Vox. And he lashes out at his former colleagues: “More Madrid makes the fat soup for Vox, which wants any type of traffic restriction to disappear.” The councilor of Recupera Madrid believes that the neighbors who now live within Central Madrid would not understand that, from one day to the next, it disappeared. And detach the negotiation from the situation in which the four councilors are carmenistas after the spin-off of Más Madrid, whom he accuses of taking “two years of vacation.” “Rita Maestre has not opposed Martínez-Almeida,” he concludes.
Are the four councilors of Recupera Madrid going to support the new Madrid Central de Almeida?
We have put two conditions to vote in favor of this ordinance. The first, that Madrid Central be maintained as we designed it in the Government of Carmena. That is the red line condition, the condition sine qua non. And the second is that the Government opens up to negotiate, and even incorporate in the text of the ordinance itself, measures that promote sustainable modes of transport in the city of Madrid, such as bicycles, public transport and pedestrian displacement, which it is the most sustainable of all; and, in parallel, measures to restrict and calm traffic. If these two premises are met, we will vote in favor of the ordinance.
Is it our ordinance? No. Does it seem to us that it is the ordinance that Madrid needs? No, we would like a much more ambitious ordinance. But we are not the Government, we do not have the capacity to design that ordinance. And what we are facing is the dilemma of consolidating Central Madrid in this new ordinance, or seeing that Central Madrid disappears by court ruling in mid-September. And Madrid would go back 20 years in the policy of restricting traffic.
When you say that they propose to maintain Central Madrid as designed by the Government of Manuela Carmena, are you referring to its perimeter or all the measures it included?
We propose that the entire measure be maintained, both the perimeter and the vehicle restriction conditions. Fundamentally because it has worked well and there are the studies that support it, and because we understand that Madrid cannot afford the luxury of doing without these low-emission areas. Rather, you would have to think about how to expand it.
We have to see what text is approved, but as far as we know, the only change that arises regarding Madrid Central is the possibility of authorizing the merchants in the center. This is a measure that in no case modifies the nature of Madrid Central, which is a low-emission area that fundamentally tries to prevent the center from being used to cross the city by car and restrict access for those who do not live or work in center. These elements are not touched on in the new ordinance and therefore it seems to us that Madrid Central remains in the conditions in which we propose it.
And the issue of merchants is a minor issue that consolidates into the standard a situation that is already occurring de facto. The merchants of the center have the possibility of accessing with their vehicle they have authorizations because most of them have registered there.
When Madrid Central was launched, the business of merchants was one of the main political and media fights. Don’t you have the feeling that you have fought the battle then and now give it up?
It was one of the issues that was most difficult to explain because a not very homogeneous situation is established. And how was it resolved? Creating exceptions. And as I was saying, most of the merchants have those authorizations. From our point of view, and I believe that anyone who analyzes it with a minimum objectivity, this measure does not alter the nature of Madrid Central at all.
In these two years of the Almeida government, environmental and mobility policy has been one of the weakest flanks of his administration. Without the four votes of Recupera Madrid, I would not succeed. Are they not afraid to prop up the mayor on his weakest flank?
Well it could be. But I’m going to more. At this moment we are not thinking about the electoral political calculation. Can this wear Almeida down? It could wear Almeida down. Are we here to wear Almeida down? In this specific matter, no, because the health of Madrid is at stake. Because it is at stake that on September 15, when the judicial sentence has to be fulfilled, Madrid Central disappears. And with him, this is the worst, all APR [Áreas de Prioridad Residencial] from the Gallardón and Botella stage, which were subsumed in Central Madrid
What is at stake if this ordinance is not approved, which is not ours because if we had maintained the Government we would be talking about expanding it to the entire perimeter of the M-30, is that Madrid city will run out of a low emissions area. In other words, the million vehicles that enter and leave the city every day or move through it, many of them without a label or highly polluting, could circulate again on Huertas Street. That is what we are talking about. And in this context, we exercise responsibility and coherence, and we say that we are not going to allow the people of Madrid to lose our area of low emissions.
When his break with Más Madrid took place, one of the reasons put forward was that the opposition against Almeida was not very strong. Isn’t it a bit contradictory to say now that you don’t have to make political calculations?
Nerd. The diagnosis I think is correct. More Madrid has been on vacation for two years. Rita Maestre has not opposed Martínez-Almeida. They have given him the Cibeles Pacts and no control or accountability mechanism has been established, as we demand. I have given the medal to Bottle. It should be remembered that Más Madrid voted with Almeida to award Ana Botella, it is not very clear why, if it was for selling municipal housing to the vulture funds.
Almeida has roamed at ease. If we were to conduct a survey among the citizens of Madrid now, it would be difficult for any neighbor to recognize a leader of the opposition. Therefore, Más Madrid has not made an opposition and I am afraid that it will not do so from now on.
But in this case they oppose the Almeida government ordinance.
I believe that because of this criticism we have chosen the most inappropriate issue to oppose. We are facing the risk that Madrid will lose its low emissions area. You cannot be frivolous. And that does not prevent a forceful opposition from being made. Quite the opposite.
The day I go to the City Hall to explain my voting position, I will denounce from beginning to end the disastrous environmental policy of the Almeida government in these two years. And I will try to make an opposition that is firm, but above all that raises two questions. One, that it establishes a clear government alternative to the Almeida disaster. And two, a political project that has options to stand up to it from the electoral point of view, that is, a broad platform that joins forces that unites diverse progressive sectors. I think that all that work has not been done and we are for the work and we will try to do it in these two years that remain.
If we do not take this step, the one who gets away with it is Vox, who wants any type of traffic restriction to disappear. More Madrid, with this frivolous position, makes the fat soup to Vox, who would be the one who would applaud.
Have you discussed your position with the councilor who was responsible for launching Madrid Central, the current deputy of Más País Inés Sabanés?
No no no no no. We do not have that trust and that relationship with the deputies of Más País. We do not belong to that political project.
But they did share Government for four years.
In this case we have not spoken with Inés. We could have done it, but the opinion you may have did not seem relevant to us, although I understand that what will interest you most is that Madrid Central remains, not that Madrid loses its low emissions area due to that court ruling that annulled it.
And with the former mayor, with Manuela Carmena?
We speak with Manuela periodically and I think she shares that Madrid cannot lose its low emissions area. We are in the summer period, but surely we have the opportunity to discuss this issue between now and when it occurs.
It said at the beginning that your favorable vote is contingent on an improvement in a more sustainable mobility. Have you proposed any specific measure in this regard? Because, for example, BiciMAD accumulates complaints from users because there is less and less possibility of using this service. Have you negotiated any specific measure that should go into the ordinance to support it?
We have a battery of measures, but we have to see the final text to be able to propose the corresponding amendments. We are waiting for it to be approved by the Governing Board and then a period of amendments opens. There will be amendments that have a place in the text of the ordinance, which is a technical article. But there will also be other measures of a strategic nature and medium-term planning, which may not be included in the text of the ordinance, but which must be government commitments. And for that we will establish, unlike what happened in the Cibeles Pacts, the corresponding control and monitoring mechanisms that these commitments are fulfilled and, if they are not done, be able to report them to public opinion so that all Madrilenians find out.
And beyond Central Madrid and mobility, have you raised any other type of negotiation or compromise in conversations with the mayor and the government team? On other policies, other measures or even on the future of Recupera Madrid within the Plenary of the City Council, which is in the air.
The negotiation is limited to the scope of mobility and fundamentally to the scope of this ordinance. The other is judicialized. We are waiting for the judge to rule on some precautions that we have requested so that the Madrid City Council stops having us gagged, as we have been to date. We have been five months, almost six, without being able to carry out our work. And there is a court ruling that must be produced shortly, at the turn of the summer, on whether or not a Mixed Group should be constituted. That is in court and is not part of any negotiation.