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International experts call on Swiss government to ensure more coherent land use policy

Switzerland, 22 February 2007 – A group of international experts has called on the Swiss government to ensure a more coherent land use policy in the country. Their comments come at a time of increasing debate on urban sprawl in Switzerland, with opponents hoping to bring the matter to a nationwide vote.

The report – the first of its kind – commissioned by the Swiss Spatial Development Office gathered together the views of five experts from neighbouring Germany, Austria and France, as well as the Netherlands and Britain.

The head of the study, Bernd Scholl, said it was aimed at giving “a neutral evaluation” of land use planning in Switzerland. He said the Spatial Development Office should be given a stronger role in land use planning and receive the appropriate resources, and the government should do more to prevent urban sprawl.

Responsibility for planning and construction laws mainly lies with the cantons and communes, which rarely adhere to legal frameworks set down by the federal government. This has led to an unwieldy mass of norms and concepts, with local authorities not always paying attention to regional needs, the Office has said in the past.

Land use planning should move from an activity where developments were limited and administratively controlled to a “political domain with its own weight” which offered politicians “promising fields of action”, wrote the experts in the foreword to the report.

– More active role
The quality of land use planning was extremely good in Switzerland, but to promote it further the Swiss government needed to play a more active role, by “developing concepts and giving orientations for town and country planning”.

This would allow a small country like Switzerland to make its land use potential more attractive on an international level, they added. The experts also foresaw an increased role for the Federal Spatial Development Office in coordinating projects on a national scale.

– Urban sprawl
Debate has been raging over the question of town and country planning in Switzerland, with fears raised over increasing urban sprawl.

In December a survey by the environmental organisation Pro Natura found that 52 per cent of people questioned felt too much land was being developed, while only 34 per cent thought the current rate of land loss was acceptable.

“We were amazed that in the cities and urban areas there is an underdevelopment and a lot of space that legally can be built, but there is also the same amount of urban sprawl,” Max van den Berg from Pro Natura said. “So if you encourage people to build more in the settlements you don’t need to build so much in the countryside.”

Pro Natura says that every second a square metre of land disappeared under concrete and asphalt. “We advocate that people with rural and urban interests come together and try to reshape the countryside,” said van den Berg. “Concepts, visions and imaginative thinking are needed to solve this problem together. The Swiss could work better together to solve that.”

Pro Natura, along with Swiss foundation for the protection of the countryside and other associations, earlier this month launched a people’s initiative to limit building in Switzerland for 20 years. This follows on from two further initiatives launched by the environmentalist and animal rights activist, Franz Weber, to stop unchecked property development and to put a cap on the number of second homes that can be built in tourist regions.