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Holiday homes stir up renewed controversy

Holiday homes in the southeastern mountain village of La Punt

(Keystone)

An environmental lobby group has called for the introduction of quotas to limit the number of new holiday homes in Switzerland.

The cabinet is shortly due to announce plans to abolish measures limiting the acquisition of real estate by foreigners without a Swiss residency permit.

The Swiss Foundation for the Protection of the Countryside warned that a possible abolition of restrictions could trigger a boom in new holiday home construction and damage the environment.

"Building new homes would have a negative impact on tourism, destroy cultural heritage and lead to increased land use," said Raimund Rodewald, the foundation's director on Monday.

The organisation urged the federal government to put pressure on the cantonal authorities, which are in charge of land registers, to implement stricter rules.

It added that the cantons should be encouraged to introduce a special tax on holiday homes and more land should be excluded from building zones.

Landscape threat

Rodewald said the measures should be valid for Swiss citizens as well as for non-Swiss residents, adding that restricting real estate purchases had nothing to do with keeping property in Swiss hands.

The Swiss Tourism Federation warned that a suspension of the current restrictions could prompt a ten per cent increase in demand for holiday homes.

There are 450,000 secondary residencies in Switzerland, according to the association. But many of these remain empty for much of the year while hotels struggle to fill beds.

"Many holiday homes stay empty because their owners are unwilling to rent them out," said Peter Anrig, the federation's deputy director. "Building more residences will only cause further infrastructure problems for resorts."

Under a law introduced in 1961 the acquisition of real estate in Switzerland by foreigners, by foreign-based companies or by Swiss-based companies controlled by foreigners is restricted.

Potential buyers need an authorisation from the cantonal authorities.

The acquisition of holiday homes for foreigners without a Swiss residency permit is limited. But real estate used for professional, commercial or industrial activities may be bought without authorisation.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Under a 1961 law, non-Swiss residents need authorisation for the acquisition of holiday homes.
There are an estimated 450,000 holiday homes.
In 2003, the cabinet announced it wanted to ease these restrictions.

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