Polish tourist town illegally charged clean air fees, rules top Polish court

Tourists who are visiting one of Poland’s favourite visitor destinations will be safe to assume they won’t be getting charged to breathe clean air… at least for the time being.

The Supreme Administrative Court in Warsaw ruled on Thursday that the famous Polish tourist town of Zakopane had wrongly charged clean air fees to tourists – despite illegal pollution.

The Court’s verdict concludes a three-year fight against the city council by tourist Bogdan Achimescu. The legal action was supported by environmental lawyers, ClientEarth.

Achimescu, who visited Zakopane in 2015, questioned the fee on the basis that it couldn’t be imposed by a town and region that failed to comply with the air quality standards.

In July 2017, the regional court dismissed the town’s arguments, saying visitors couldn’t be charged an environmental fee if air quality standards were not met.

Zakopane, also known as the “Winter Capital of Poland”, is a popular destination for skiing and mountaineering, welcoming around 14 million tourists a year. The current tourist fee therefore makes an important contribution to the town’s annual budget.

Zakopane has been struggling with smog problems for years. According to data from the Regional Authority for Environmental Protection (WIOS), in 2017, the city recorded 54 days of particulate matter (PM10) breaches. In 2018, the town already noted 33 days with breaches.

According to Polish law, daily concentrations of PM10 cannot exceed 50 μg/m3 for more than 35 days per year.

ClientEarth lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan said: “The essence of this legal action was the right to charge local fees by local authorities and at the same time the right of all of us to breathe clean air. If Zakopane wants to collect fees based, among others, on environmental values, it should firstly ensure much cleaner air quality.

“The case of Zakopane is just the tip of an iceberg because in Poland, tourists fees are collected in many places where air quality does not meet the standards required by law. As the court has ruled this week, in Zakopane those fees were charged unlawfully.”

This article was updated on 16 March 2018 to reflect the importance of this case in this particular town. 

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Michal Zablocki, ClientEarth