Barcelona mayor promises crackdown on cruise ships

Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, has pledged to restrict the number of cruise ships allowed to dock in the city and to oppose the expansion of the city’s airport, saying: “We don’t have infinite capacity.”

Colau said the limits would reduce pollution in the city, where air quality regularly exceeds World Health Organization limits for nitrogen oxide and PM10 particulates.

Restrictions would also help reduce the number of visitors to the city. Dealing with what most of its citizens see as an excess of tourists is high on the Barcelona city council’s agenda.

In a survey last year tourism was cited as one of the city’s biggest problems, second only to the lack of affordable housing, which is itself exacerbated by the rapid spread of tourist apartments.

Next Wednesday the city will declare a climate emergency in the city and will roll out plans to extend low emission zones – similar to the one that has just been lifted in Madrid – and a ban on the most polluting vehicles entering the city except the ring roads.

“In Barcelona we want to act on all fronts,” Colau said, speaking after a visit to the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, which docked in the city. This would include reducing plastic use, better recycling, reducing speed limits and increasing car-free zones, in particular near schools.

Neighbourhood associations and environmental groups have campaigned for years to curb the number of cruise ships that visit the city. Last year more than 2.5 million people disembarked from cruises in the city, now Europe’s busiest cruise destination. Opponents argue that they contribute little, spending on average only €57 each during their brief visit while significantly adding to the problem of overcrowding.

Gala Pin, a councillor in Colau’s last administration, raised eyebrows when she compared cruise passengers to “a plague of locusts” who devour the public space and then leave.

Last month, in a report published by a Brussels-based NGO, Barcelona topped the list of 50 European ports for the amount of pollution produced by cruise ships.

The problem Colau faces is that she doesn’t have authority over either the port or the airport, which last year handled more than 50 million passengers, a 6% increase on 2017. The airports authority has already approved an €18m terminal extension to cope with growing numbers of passengers.

The ports are run by central government while Spanish airports are managed by a public-private company in which the government has a 51% stake.

However, as Colau is governing Barcelona in coalition with the socialists, who are expected to form the new national government, she may feel she has some leverage in Madrid.

Authorities predict an increase in the number of tourists visiting Spain this year. The country received 82 million visitors in 2018, almost twice the population, with Catalonia – of which Barcelona is the capital – receiving the biggest share.

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