Thousands of people are due to gather in Madrid on Saturday to protest against “barbaric” plans to cut down more than 1,000 trees in two popular parks to make way for an extension of the city’s metro system.
Although the regional Madrid government had originally planned to build two new stations on line 11 of the metro in streets south-west of the city centre, it has now decided that the stations will be located in the old Arganzuela section of the Madrid Río park and in the nearby Comillas park.
According to the new plan, the construction work will involve cutting down 1,027 trees – some of which are more than 50 years old – and moving another 348.
News of the altered project has drawn a furious response from a coalition of neighbourhood groups and from the environmental NGO Ecologists in Action. Two separate appeals have been lodged to try to halt the works, which have already begun, and a demonstration has been called for 12.30pm on Saturday in Madrid Río. By Friday afternoon, more than 50,000 people had signed a petition to save the trees.
“We only found out when they started to put the barriers up,” said Susana de la Higuera of the Pasillo Verde Imperial neighbourhood association.
“By putting the station inside the park, they’ll have to cut down more than 500 trees in the Madrid Río park, which includes what was the historic Arganzuela park, which was planted in 1969.”
De la Higuera said the loss of the large London plane trees, which provide much-needed shade during the merciless Madrid summer, would be devastating for the community.
“The people who are grandparents now took their children there and now they take their grandchildren there,” she said. “It’s also where the schoolkids hang out because it’s the only place where there’s really shade. But it’s a really popular park that’s used not only by people from Arganzuela, but also by people from all over Madrid. We just don’t understand this barbaric idea – there’s no other word for it.”
Ecologists in Action said the metro works would represent “one of the greatest arboricides” in Madrid’s recent history.
“The reasons for this decision seem to spring from the need to smooth out the management of the works and to reduce the effects on traffic as much as possible by moving construction away from the public thoroughfare,” it said in a statement. “This is further proof of the Madrid government’s disdain for our natural heritage.”
Madrid city council referred the Guardian to the Madrid regional government, which is leading the metro extension. The regional government did not respond to the Guardian’s questions.
Earlier this week, however, Madrid’s mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, said “not a single tree would be lost” as laws required that the 1,027 felled trees be replaced by almost 20,000 new ones.
Such words have done little to placate those who will feel the loss of the trees most keenly.
“They’re happier to cut down a tree than cut off a street,” said De la Higuera. “For us, it’s about the trees but also about what the park means to us. It’s been part of our life as a community since our grandparents’ time. They’re ripping up the life of the community.”
The Spanish capital hosted an annual conference this week on parks and public gardens, with a focus on “green spaces as natural systems of citizen health”.
Last year was the hottest on record in Spain, with heatwaves in May and during the summer pushing the temperature above 40C (104F) in much of the country.