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Business calls for green groups to be reined in

Environmentalists say the planned football stadium runs contrary to all planning regulations Keystone

Business wants environmental groups to be stripped of their right to block building projects in the courts, claiming it is costing them billions of francs.

This content was published on April 27, 2004 - 08:30

The call comes as the Green Party seeks to prevent the construction of a football stadium in Zurich, at the risk of leaving the city on the sidelines of Euro 2008.

Cases of large construction projects being delayed or cancelled following appeals by environmental groups regularly make the headlines in Switzerland.

Zurich’s Green Party in October launched a campaign to block a project for a new stadium and shopping centre, on the grounds that it contravened planning regulations and would cause traffic congestion in the city.

The German motor racing star, Michael Schumacher, was recently forced to shelve his plans to build a new house in a protected area of canton Appenzell Inner Rhodes.

Although local and cantonal authorities had given the project the green light, it was blocked after an appeal by WWF Switzerland.

Environmental groups have also obstructed dozens of smaller projects, such as underground car parks and snow cannon installations.

The Swiss business community has begun voicing its objection to the number of projects being shelved due to successful appeals.

Armin Meier, the head of logistics and IT at the retail giant, Migros, recently claimed on Swiss television that around SFr1 billion ($760 million) worth of the company’s projects had been “systematically blocked” in the courts.

The total cost to Swiss companies of blocked plans was around SFr20-25 billion, estimated Meier.

Rightwing support

The business world’s grievances have found a sympathetic ear among some parliamentarians, particularly members of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

Several parliamentary interventions have sought to ban the right to appeal against construction projects, but so far they have failed to win a majority.

Jean Fattebert, the vice-president of the People’s Party, who has backed a number of these interventions, says the system of appeals has gone too far and is costing the state too much money.

"The Swiss economy is suffering. It’s a waste of time and money,” said Fattebert.

“These [ecological] organisations don’t have a sense for business. They can allow themselves to dream about nature, but [we] in politics have to consider the concerns of the businesses in question and can’t allow ourselves these flights of fancy.”

Exaggerated

But environmental groups dismiss the criticism.

“Only one per cent of appeals are lodged by environmental organisations,” claimed Felix Adank, spokesman for the Transport and Environment Association.

“What’s more, the fact that two thirds of these appeals are accepted by the courts proves they are well-founded.”

Richard Patthey, vice-director of the Swiss Foundation for the Protection of the Countryside, also plays down the extent to which green organisations try to halt new constructions.

“Out of 10,000 construction projects there are only around two or three appeals. This number is ridiculously low compared to the number of planned constructions that don’t respect regulations.”

Moderate

The government seems to support the environmental groups’ right of appeal.

In 2000, the Swiss environment agency commissioned Geneva University to conduct a study into whether environmental groups were abusing their right of appeal.

The environment ministry said the study showed that environmental organisations “use the right of appeal in a very moderate and considered manner".

Environmental groups claim the appeals process is simply a way of ensuring existing regulations are respected.

“It’s thanks to this right that the law is adhered to more often. This is what annoys our adversaries because they feel that the law is too restrictive,” said Patthey.

swissinfo, Olivier Pauchard

In brief

The right of appeal was introduced 35 years ago.

In 2003, 172 appeals launched by environmental organisations went before the courts.

More than 60 per cent of the appeals were upheld by the courts.

Several parliamentarians, particularly from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, have voiced their support for the business community’s complaints.

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