Crans-Montana gets tougher on holiday homes
Voters in the alpine resort of Crans-Montana have overwhelmingly backed the introduction of legislation that aims to stop the rapid spread of holiday homes.
The vote comes three months after canton Valais issued a one-year ban on foreigners buying holiday homes in seven local communes, which include the resort of Verbier.
Citizens of the six communes that make up Crans-Montana voted on Sunday to change the law on quotas, in a bid to reduce the number of beds in the region that are little or never occupied.
The regulations are aimed at restoring balance between holiday homes and hotels, businesses and main residences.
They are also intended to put a brake on spiralling real estate prices and encourage local people not to leave the resort.
Under the terms of the new rules, a new construction will only be permitted if at least 70 per cent of the building is permanently occupied or used commercially.
Another measure is to reduce the annual amount of land that holiday homes may be built on from 14,000 square metres to 8,000 square metres.
There will also be a bonus system to encourage the construction of buildings that respect sustainable development.
Opponents of the new legislation included landowners, entrepreneurs and estate agents who argued there would be a fall in real estate prices and less work in the area.
But at the local tourist office Jörg Romang felt that setting a limit on holiday homes "could only benefit the hotels and therefore tourism".
Resorts in other parts of the canton, where there has been increasing debate on the controversial issue, followed the result in Crans-Montana closely.
In December, foreigners were barred for a year from buying holiday homes in seven communes in canton Valais, including the ski resort of Verbier, in an effort to ease the pressure on lengthy waiting lists.
The decision, imposed by the government of Valais, infuriated local officials who claimed the move would send buyers, many of them British, elsewhere. A number of real estate agencies have lodged an appeal.
Announcing the decision, the finance director of canton Valais, Jean-Michel Cina, argued "emergency measures" were needed because of a backlog of almost 1,000 sales.
Strict rules laid down in a federal law limit real estate sales to foreigners, with cantons awarded an annual quota. This is fixed at 310 units for Valais.
The foundation of Swiss environmentalist Franz Weber is to launch a people's initiative "Save Swiss soil" in December.
It calls for a limit on the percentage of holiday homes in resorts to 20 per cent. In Crans-Montana the level is well over 50 per cent.
"If this is not done, we will no longer have any countryside but a single town that stretches from Lake Constance to Geneva," Weber told swissinfo.
"Added to that, prices will explode to such an extent that the Swiss will no longer have the means to buy or rent."
swissinfo with agencies
Crans-Montana in Valais has 37,000 tourist beds, of which 2,000 are in hotels.
The six communes that make up Crans-Montana are Icogne, Lens, Chermignon, Montana, Randogne and Mollens.
The new regulations will reduce the area that holiday homes may be built on from 14,000 square metres annually to 8,000 square metres by 2010.
The tourism director of St Moritz in eastern Switzerland, Hanspeter Danuser, has suggested that holiday homes be forcibly rented out to counter the progressive transformation of hotels into apartments.
The idea comes from a system introduced in the ski resort of Whistler Mountain in Canada.
In St Moritz, holiday homes account for more than 58% of residences.
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