Antwerp bans old diesel cars in "low emission zone"

The city of Antwerp unveiled plans to create a low emission zone in the city centre, banning old diesel cars as from 2016. The Motoring Associations VAB and Touring have already slammed the initiative, arguing that the plan will hardly help to reduce air pollution. "It's more a symbolic initiative", says Maarten Matienko of VAB.

Antwerp is the first Flemish city to introduce a so-called low emission zone, and works together with the federal and Flemish authorities for this pilot project. 

The area concerned is located between the Scheldekaaien and the Singel, which is roughly the inner city east of the River Scheldt. The most polluting cars and lorries will no longer have access to the low emission zone, like diesel cars older than 15 years. Diesel cars that reached the age limit of 10 years, will have to be equipped with a particulate matter filter. The city will be able to monitor traffic through automatic digital number plate checks.

Big cities abroad like a number of German cities, London, or Milan already stepped up efforts to reduce pollution levels, either by banning traffic or by introducing a congestion tax. But in Belgium, Antwerp is only the first city to take this kind of measure to fight air pollution created by traffic.

A study was ordered by the socialist-led Antwerp cabinet a couple of years ago, but the plans are now being continued by the Flemish nationalist-led city council of Burgomaster Bart De Wever. The city argues that the measure has to be taken to follow the strict European guidelines. It is believed that particulate matter in the air could be reduced with as much as 41 percent in the city centre.

Touring and VAB slam the deal

However, the Motoring Associations are not impressed. "We fear that this will become another kind of tax for motorists," says Danny Smagghe of Touring. "Moreover, it could become a real chaos if every city starts imposing its own rules", he told Het Laatste Nieuws.

Maarten Matienko of the Flemish Motoring Association VAB says that the measure targets certain groups of people, and that it doesn't solve anything. "We estimate that 15 percent of the cars would be banned under the new rules. However, many of these old cars belong to seniors. They often don't have the money to buy new cars. Moreover, it's not these people that take the car very often. And what would be the effect, if at the same time hundreds of other cars are polluting the air a couple of miles further on the orbital road? This looks more like a symbolic action." 

Ghent has similar plans, but waits for a legal framework

The city of Ghent has similar plans as Antwerp, but first wants to wait until a legal framework is created on a Flemish and federal level. A new traffic sign should announce that old diesel cars are banned from certain areas. The Flemish Environment Minister Joke Schauvliege is willing to cooperate, but realises that the impact on air pollution will only be moderate. Because of the small impact, the city of Brussels decided to skip similar plans to ban old diesel cars.