EIA review ordered amid fears over Gaudi masterpiece

Fears a Spanish high speed train link could damage Barcelona's iconic Gaudi cathedral has prompted the European Union's ombudsman to request evidence that the environmental impact has been considered.

P Nikiforos Diamandouros has asked the European Investment Bank (EIB), which is funding a quarter of the cost of the planned line, to review the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment before handing over funds.

When inspecting paperwork for the project, he failed to find any record that the bank had reviewed the Spanish authorities’ assessment.

In a draft recommendation he said: “Before disbursing any financial assistance for the high-speed railway segment going through Barcelona, the EIB should formally and adequately record in the relevant file its review of the EIA prepared by the Spanish authorities, thereby permitting the ombudsman to assess whether it has indeed complied with due diligence with its legal obligations.”

The ombudsman’s intervention this month follows a complaint from a city resident that the train tunnel project could damage private and public buildings, including modernist architect Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

It has emerged the tunnel could pass within metres of the landmark’s foundations.

The unnamed complainant argues the bank’s decision to help pay for this segment of a 744-kilometer (462-mile) high-speed railway linking Madrid and the French border is wrong.

He also criticised the Spanish authorities for not “properly assessing the project’s environmental impact” and for failing to examine other routes.

He argues the bank should reconsider its decision to help pay for the project.

The bank has agreed to plough Euro 2.5bn into the project – a quarter of the total cost. The remainder is to come from the European Cohesion Fund and the Spanish authorities.

It says it reviewed the EIA carried out by the Spanish authorities for this section of the project, which it said met its standards.

But the ombudsman says he failed to find evidence of the bank’s review and has called for a full assessment before Tuesday, September 30.

David Gibbs

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie