Friday, June 7, 2013

Secondary residences in Switzerland, a lack of targeting?

The threat that secondary residences are destroying the landscape in touristic area in Switzerland is not a new topic.  Already during my master studies in 2004, the amount of houses with closed shutters and low return for the touristic area were considered as a problem. Indeed, ghost villages are not authentic and do not attract tourists. It is therefore crucial that there are whole-year-residents in these villages, also to take care of the holiday homes. But because of the rush for secondary residences land price go up and locals cannot afford building and living in these areas anymore. They move out of the attractive landscapes, to live outside in cheaper location and commute for work, leaving the touristic villages empty.

The fascination to this topic had lead to my master thesis. It looked at the particular case of the Engadin, the touristic region in the East of Switzerland, where St. Moritz is located.

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With a system dynamic model, I tested several possible policies, among other fixing a maximum percentage of land for secondary residence, or separating land markets for residents and for non-residents.
The model showed that only policies that split the land market for resident and non-resident were efficient , as it would keep housing prices low and affordable for residents who could stay in the touristic area and keeping it authentic. Threshold policies would slow-down the urbanization but would not solve the problem of locals having to move to the periphery. 

Not only i was fascinated by the topic of secondary residences, but also some people took political actions. Last year the Swiss population accepted a popular initiative (a political procedure through which the population can propose a new law) that foresees to fix the maximum secondary residences to 20%. If a municipality already has more than this threshold, then no more secondary residence can be built, which is now binding the construction in all touristic areas.

Somehow it reminds me of discussions I had in Ethiopia. It is clear to  everyone that every location is different and therefore a different solution should be applied. But what do you expect from a developing country? they can only develop threshold based policies, though context specific policies would work much better... but Switzerland is not a developing country, yet context specific policies seem to be very difficult. And the lack of differentiation between the different context had consequences. It has lead to an almost comical drama. It was unclear from when the limitation on the construction for new secondary residences enters in force, at the day of acceptance of the popular initiative or January 1st 2013 as proposed by the government. In the meantime many construction authorizations have been requested and accepted in touristic areas, in order to build just before the new law enters in force.
Some weeks ago, the highest tribunal of Switzerland had to decide when the construction limitation enters in force and decided that it would be the voting day. In many touristic regions, this is a drama as many of these recently accepted project cannot be implemented anymore, and everyone fears economic slow down.  Politicians from these touristic cantons are already looking for new options, and even think of an initiative to contra-balance this initiative...  At least the Swiss political system offers escapes...

Here the new announcement of the tribunal's decision 

It is just a brilliant example of what happens when policies are implemented without accounting for different contexts. Stays that developing context specific policies are very challenging. What is fair and who decides about this? how to avoid corruption?

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