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Pricey politics Vaud pays high price for local democracy

The 84-metre Taoua tower planned for the centre of Lausanne was rejected by local voters on April 9, 2014. But the planning cost taxpayers CHF1.5 million ($1.6 million).


Canton Vaud residents are increasingly exerting their democratic rights to appeal urban planning decisions taken by elected officials. But these appeals are proving costly for local taxpayers. 

The French-speaking regional newspaper 24heuresexternal link published an article on Friday highlighting a growing trend in canton Vaud for local grassroots opposition via popular referendums to urban planning.

The cities and towns of Lausanne, Aigle, Chavannes-près-Renens, Bussigny, Bassins, Yvorne and Le Vaud have all experienced a spate of citizen-initiated referendums in recent months.

“It’s a way of defying the authorities, in whom the citizens have less and less trust,” said political scientist René Knüsel from Lausanne University.

But this can prove to be expensive for taxpayers. Opposition to the Taoua tower in Lausanne in April cost the city authorities CHF1.5 million ($1.6 million) in architecture and other planning studies.

The rejection of a parking project in the village of Yvorne at the ballot box on June 29 led to CHF450,000 in expert fees and other costs, while the village’s annual budget is only CHF5 million.

“Political appeals are a new trend: up to now a healthy discussion in the local parliament could close political decisions around a certain project. But now the debate widens more and more in the public sphere,” explained Philippe Gmür, head of Vaud’s urban planning service.

“These are long and expensive procedures for the communes and for the state, but not for those who launch the the appeals,” said Pascal Broulis, head of the finance department of canton Vaud. “For disproportionate legal procedures, the losers should pay the legal fees.”

Citizen-initiated referendums are popular vote procedures that lead to a whole electorate voting on whether, for example, a particular law should be enacted or repealed. This procedure acts as a corrective to parliamentary decision-making in representative democracies and as a check on parliament and the government.