Greens cry foul over factory plans

Galmiz wants to site the production plant on this farming land. Berner Zeitung

Environmental groups have clashed with authorities in western Switzerland over plans to site a pharmaceutical plant on farming land.

This content was published on December 10, 2004

They say the proposal breaches planning regulations and has exposed weaknesses in the system.

The village of Galmiz and the canton Fribourg authorities want to reclassify 55 hectares of agricultural land as an industrial zone in order to attract an unnamed United States pharmaceutical company, which wants to build a new plant in Europe.

The move has drawn the anger of Swiss environmental organisations, which say the decision violates Swiss town and country planning regulations.

“The planned industrial zone in the midst of the largest agricultural zone in Switzerland infringes on the Swiss principles of land use,” Hans Weiss, who is coordinating opposition to the plans, told the “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper.

According to the newspaper, opponents have been told not to disclose the name of the gene-technology firm concerned for fear of scuppering the deal.

Peter Rüegg from the Swiss section of Friends of the Earth told swissinfo that the company was welcome to set up a production plant in Switzerland. But he said the village of Galmiz was not the most suitable location.

“In Switzerland there are 1,700 hectares of unused industrial land, so the company is likely to find a better site,” explained Rüegg.

Planning regulations

But the Federal Spatial Development Office, which has examined the case, says that while it is not perhaps the best use of the land, the project does not breach planning regulations.

“It is up to the municipality and the canton to decide on zoning issues,” said the government office in a statement.

“Even if the government believed that this decision… contravened federal legislation, it would not be in a legal position to contest it.”

The cantonal authorities are expected to approve the land reclassification on December 23.

The Federal Spatial Development Office said one criterion that had to be met was for the new factory to be constructed in the vicinity of an existing building area.

A spokesman maintained that the project could not be considered illegal, because the site was next to a prison.

No appeal

Opponents have so far refrained from appealing against the ruling by the Federal Spatial Development Office.

But they say they will go to the courts if the cantonal authorities fail to compensate for the switch by designating another 55 hectares as agricultural land.

“This is a fundamental point and we will not budge on this issue,” said Raimund Rodewald, director of the Swiss Foundation for the Protection of the Countryside.

The Fribourg Development Agency says it is anxious to move ahead with the project because it would create around 1,000 jobs.

Officials say Galmiz is one of four possible sites being considered by the American firm. Of the other three, two are in Switzerland and one is in Ireland.

Thomas Wyssa, president of the municipality of Galmiz and a local vegetable farmer, said he too supported the scheme, as the land chosen for the site was neither good farming land nor suitable for growing vegetables.

According to Wyssa, most residents in Galmiz are also in favour, because of the promise of new jobs.

“If we grow wheat or vegetables, we can employ up to 40 people; whereas if the pharmaceutical company is built, up to 1,200 new jobs will be created,” Wyssa told swissinfo.


In brief

The municipal authorities in the village of Galmiz (population 500) in western Switzerland want to offer an unnamed US pharmaceutical company 55 hectares of land to set up a production plant.

The land is currently classed as “agricultural”, but they want to reclassify it as an industrial zone.

Environmental groups claim this breaches Swiss town and country planning regulations. But the Federal Spatial Development Office disagrees and says it cannot intervene.

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