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Zurich counts cost of noise on house prices

(Keystone)

A system to gauge the impact of aircraft noise on house prices is being trialled in canton Zurich, which is facing compensation claims from angry homeowners.

The cantonal authorities and Zurich's airport operator, Unique, hope the evaluation system will become standard in determining how much of an impact noise pollution has on the value of homes.

The system is being tried out on 19 compensation cases submitted this week to a federal evaluation commission. The claimants are property owners in Opfikon, near Zurich airport.

In total the canton is facing 14,000 claims for compensation from households in the area.

The first five claims examined on Thursday were rejected by the residents concerned. If rest of the homeowners are not satisfied with the commission's verdict, the courts are likely to have the final say on whether their properties have lost value because of aircraft noise.

The evaluation process makes use of a computer model designed by Zurich Cantonal Bank. The model processes information on the specifications and location of each property and the amount of noise disturbance overhead.

Property values

A panel of experts will then combine the computer data with other tests to determine how much impact aircraft noise pollution has had on the value of the properties.

The panel will consist of Martin Hoesli, professor at Geneva University's finance and real estate department, economics professor Peter Kugler, of Basel University, a representative the Canton Zurich Homeowners Association and Beat Spalinger, Unique's chief financial officer.

Representatives from the Federal Civil Aviation Office and Canton Zurich will act as neutral observers.

"This is a small piece of the puzzle, but an important one," Spalinger told swissinfo.

"In the past it was not possible for assessors to evaluate the potential loss of property prices, but this new model makes it possible to judge the impact of aircraft noise."

But Spalinger admitted that the findings of the study will have to be scrutinised by the authorities investigating the compensation claims before they can be accepted.

Positive

"The federal court has yet to decide whether to accept our final report. Homeowners have received the project with a positive attitude, but have not yet given us a formal reaction," he said.

Unique, which took over the running of Zurich airport from the cantonal authorities in June 2001, has been saddled with the entire compensation bill, which has been estimated at between SFr800 million ($622 million) and SFr1.2 billion when all claims are settled.

The cost is being recouped by a noise surcharge levied on passengers and airlines at the airport.

Complaints about noise pollution from the airport took off after flight patterns were changed in response to a ban by Germany on night flights over the south of that country.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Some 14,000 homeowners around Zurich airport have claimed compensation for aircraft noise pollution devaluation.
The total bill is expected to reach between SFr800 million and SFr1.2 billion.
19 test cases from Opfikon, canton Zurich, started proceedings on Wednesday.

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