Zurich's Green Party has launched a campaign to block the planned construction of the city's new football stadium.
If successful, the campaign would probably prevent Zurich's involvement in the 2008 European football championships.
Zurich is one of four Swiss cities due to host the continent’s biggest sporting tournament, following the successful joint bid by the Swiss and Austrian football associations.
However, environmentalists and some local residents have reacted angrily to the Zurich proposals, which include the building of a new shopping centre alongside the stadium.
“We are not opposed to the stadium itself,” insists Green party politician Katharina Prelicz-Huber. “I live right by the existing stadium and can’t imagine life in the area without it.
"But it’s the shopping centre that’s the main problem as it will at least double the amount of traffic in an already congested part of town.
“The scheme runs contrary to all planning regulations, but this is being ignored because of the time pressure. People are being blinded to the problems by the lure of the football.”
The Green Party’s claims have been rejected by the stadium planners, whose own studies suggest a maximum rise in traffic levels of eight per cent.
The stadium plans were overwhelmingly approved by the city parliament in June, but the Greens hope to have more success in September when the proposals come up for a public vote.
The citizens of Zurich will be asked to approve both planning permission and the city’s decision to provide land and funding worth a total of SFr37.5 million ($27.4 million).
The entire stadium project is set to cost around SFr370 million, but the lion’s share of the expenditure is being met by Credit Suisse. The bank intends to recoup its investment through rents raised at the shopping centre.
Supporters of the stadium say they are confident of winning public approval.
“I think we will get a huge majority in September’s vote, possibly more than 70 per cent,” reckons city mayor Elmar Ledergerber. “And that should then help speed up the whole process.”
But even if the people of Zurich come out in favour of the new stadium, the Green Party says it will contest the project via the appeals procedure.
“We don’t think the crucial points have been explained properly to the people,” Prelicz-Huber says. “From the start we have indicated our willingness to compromise.
"But our demands for better transport links, a greater share of residential land and more green areas have all been ignored. An appeal is the only possibility still open to us.”
According to Zurich’s city planning department, the appeals process could take anywhere between two and four years to complete. However, the courts could allow building work to continue while both sides make their arguments.
It would then be up to Credit Suisse to decide if it wanted to take the risk of embarking on a project that could later be held up or even halted.
Project spokesman Mathias Friedli told swissinfo that the bank would only decide on this if and when an appeal was launched.
The Swiss Football Association is adamant that the lack of a stadium in Zurich would have a much greater impact on Zurich itself than on the Euro 2008 preparations.
“We trust that the Zurich politicians will do their job and that the stadium will get built,” spokesman Pierre Benoit told swissinfo.
“But if it can’t be done, it won’t be a drastic problem for the tournament. Of course we want Zurich to be part of it, but if necessary we can share out the Zurich games among Bern, Basel and Geneva.”
“It would be a catastrophe for Zurich not to be involved,” argues Ledergerber. “Major events like this don’t come along every day.
"I can’t say now how we will deal with any possible appeal, but if an appeal is made we have to go back to these people and convince them that they can’t stop the project from being built. All they can do is delay it and deprive Zurich of the European Championships.”
Having already been labelled traitors for even daring to question the stadium project, the Green Party opponents are well used to such talk.
“As a Green Party politician, you get used to being in the political minority,” smiles Prelicz-Huber. “We have never set out to stop the championships from coming to Zurich, but the people behind the stadium have forced us to consider the appeals process, which they seem to think they can take in their stride.
"It’s a great shame to have these power games going on, but I still hope that the threat of an appeal can at least bring about a compromise.”
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich
The Zurich stadium is one of four football grounds involved in Swiss preparations for Euro 2008.
The stadiums in Basel and Geneva are already complete, while building work is well underway in Bern.
The Zurich stadium will hold up to 30,000 seated spectators and be home to both of the city's professional football teams.
Euro 2008 organisers want the stadium to be completed in 2007, so that a full season can be played on the pitch before the tournament begins.
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