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Swiss flag causes a flap in London

The Swiss flag: not welcome on Wardour Street, London, W1

(Keystone)

The owner of a Swiss restaurant in London has been ordered to take down a flag which has flown above the entrance for the best part of 20 years.

Westminster City Council told Armin Lötscher he did not have planning permission to hang the offending article off the side of the building.

Lötscher opened the St Moritz Restaurant in the British capital’s fashionable Soho district in 1974.

“I cannot remember exactly when I put up the Swiss flag outside,” he told swissinfo.

“But it has been hanging there for at least two decades and nobody ever complained about it.”

Surprise visit

The 66-year-old restaurateur – a native of canton Lucerne – says he woke up to the reality of council regulations when he received an unannounced visit last year.

“I was having lunch one day in the restaurant when a woman walked in and told me my flag was illegal and that I needed planning permission for it,” he recalled.

“A couple of months later I got a letter from the council… saying that the flag didn’t fit in with the character of the building.”

Lötscher has since lodged several formal requests for permission to keep the Swiss flag flying above the entrance to his restaurant – all have been turned down.

Westminster City Council said Lötscher was told to remove the flag because the authorities wanted to protect a “heritage area” from “rampant advertising”.

“It is not because we are anti-Swiss and we certainly didn’t do this out of spite,” said a council spokesman, speaking to swissinfo on condition of anonymity.

“But this flag was being used for commercial benefit to identify the restaurant premises, so this is a commercial matter and has nothing to do with his own personal patriotism.”

Lost cause

Since his last application for planning permission was rejected in May, Lötscher says he has given up chasing the council through the courts and has now resigned himself to a flagless exterior.

“The only chance would be to go to the European Court [of Human Rights]… but I’m not going to go that far,” he said.

“I still maintain it’s the principle of the thing. The flag has been there for so long and it’s wrong to take it away. It never hurt anybody.”

But Lötscher says that the legal wrangle with the council has not changed his opinion of the British.

“It’s a lovely country, the people have been good to me and I’ve got a lot of friends here.

“One day I’ll close up and travel around the world, but right now I’m happy where I am.”

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

Armin Lötscher moved to London in 1958 and opened the St Moritz Restaurant in Soho in 1974.
It is the oldest Swiss restaurant in the British capital.
Celebrities who have eaten at Lötscher’s restaurant over the years include Peter Gabriel, Diana Ross and Shirley Bassey.

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