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Switzerland: public backs tough planning laws

At the end of 2004, a plan to establish a large factory in Galmiz, Switzerland, creating 1,200 new jobs, was announced. It appeared that American bio-medical corporation Amgen was looking for a new production site in Europe with easy access and a low-tax regime.
Demonstration against Amgen in Galmiz Switzerland
Demonstration against Amgen in Galmiz Switzerland

Buckling under pressure, the local municipality and the canton authorities agreed to the project, while the head of the spatial planning federal office didn’t react, which meant authorising an exception to the spatial planning laws - even though at least two excellent potential alternative sites existed within 30 km!


But Friends of the Earth Switzerland/Pro Natura and other environmental organisations objected because it would contravene both logic and existing laws to put a 550ha industrial site in the heart of the Grand-Marais - a former marshy area converted into arable land in the 19th century and famous for its high quality vegetable production.


Friends of the Earth Switzerland decided not to play the legal card, but to build a popular movement, together with local farmers, and environmental and heritage protection NGOs. A specific association was created and a peaceful protest march of some 2,000 people held in April 2005 generated a lot of media coverage. The debate raged in national newspapers and the parliament. In the end, the company dropped its plans: in 2006, Amgen announced that it would be investing US$1 billion in Ireland, creating 1,100 jobs. However, that plan was also ‘indefinitely postponed’ in 2007.


Since then, FoE Switzerland has been very successful in raising the topic of planning and its impact on land use, soil resources, biodiversity loss, urban sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions. They are pushing for a national referendum proposing new legislation to ensure that land is used sustainably, that agricultural land is preserved and used exclusively for food production, and that the total surface area that can be built on may not be extended for the next 20 years.


More than 110,000 citizens signed up in the first 12 months, and the referendum is expected to take place in early 2012.


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