NGOs tell bank to block Slovak motorway loan

Environmentalists are calling on the European Investment Bank to withhold a €50m loan which would allow the Slovak Government to build a stretch of motorway until a full environmental impact assessment of the proposed project has been completed.

Motorway building will always have an impact on the environment

Motorway building will always have an impact on the environment

Campaigners from Friends of the Earth and CEE Bankwatch argue that building the road could be illegal and have written to the bank asking it to suspend its financing of the project until it has been established that EU law is not being broken.

The proposed route of the 10km Sverepec-Vrtizer section of the D1 motorway would include a flyover which would carry traffic directly over homes in a densely-populated town, dramatically increasing air and noise pollution.

Homeowners affected by the proximity of the road have been offered no compensation and the NGOs allege the planning has been poorly handled, with the Ministry of Environment's environmental impact assessment being ignored and alternative routes taking the road around the town have been overlooked.

The two NGOs and 15 local people have launched a challenge against the development and now argue that it is against EU law for the bank to issue a loan for a project which is currently subject to legal action.

As well as applying for the bank loan, the Slovak Government is also looking for grant aid from the European Union's Cohesion Fund.

Ivan Lesay, of CEE Bankwatch Network, said: "The Slovak government has not informed the European Commision about the lawsuit, even though it has applied for support from the Cohesion Fund. We suspect it has also not informed the EIB.

"Therefore we have asked the bank to suspend any financial operation related to the project until it is carried out in line with the conclusions of the EIA and with due consideration for the outcome of the lawsuit."

The NGOs believe that if the government has not informed the bank of their legal challenge, it is in breach of the EIB's contract, which obliges the borrower to "promptly inform the Bank of any material litigation that is commenced or threatened against it with regard to environmental or other matters affecting the Project."

"The siting of the motorway - through the city centre, over residential family houses and in front of housing estate windows - is the major problem of the project," Juraj Smatana, spokesman for the NGO Dial'nica a priroda (Highway and Nature) told edie.

"However, there is also major concern over the violation of citizens' constitutional right for private property protection on the part of highway developers.

"If the developers offered fair compensation for the affected citizens, there would only be resistance from those citizens critical of the social impact of the project - cutting the city into two halves."

If proper compensation was offered to the thousands affected by the proposed flyover, however, local NGOs claim it would no longer make financial sense and it would be cheaper and less damaging to dig a tunnel.

Two environmental impact assessments have been conducted to look at the likely effect of the scheme and both times concluded that a tunnel was the best option.

The NGOs told edie they suspect an underpass has been ruled out because Slovakian construction companies, a powerful lobby group, lack the technical expertise to build one and would lose out on lucrative Government contracts to foreign companies were this option chosen.

They said the problem was mirrored all over Slovakia, where the need for roads were given priority over the rights of homeowners and the environment and the simplest technical solution was chosen over the right one.

"The construction companies seem to live in the period of communist regime when the almighty political party argued with collective interest while ignoring the individual rights," said Mr Smatana.

Robert Cyglicki, Bankwatch's international EIB Coordinator, said: "This case is the first major test for the EIB since it signed up to the European Environmental Principles (see related story), and it needs to deliver on its green aspirations."

The European Principles for the Environment require borrowers to meet certain environmental standards before loans will be released.

Sam Bond



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