Real estate market Building land: enough space for everyone

Current reserves of building land are enough to meet the anticipated population increase.

by Maciej Skoczek and Matthias Holzhey 28 Feb 2018

Building land reserves in Switzerland shrank between 2012 and 2017, whereas the population grew by more than 450,000. In total the surface of undeveloped residential building zones (residential, mixed-use and central zones) sank by around six percent, though it currently still amounts to more than 20,000 hectares. However, more than half of the additional population should be absorbed into the existing building areas.

According to the reference scenario of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), more than one million more people may be living in Switzerland in the next 15 years than do today, which corresponds to a need for building zones amounting to about 16,000 hectares. The population increase could be absorbed into the national average without increasing the density of the housing stock.

It will get more crowded in the west

According to the reference scenario, population growth over the next 15 years will be strongest in the canton of Freiburg by just under a quarter. Growth rates between 15 and 20 percent are anticipated in the cantons of Waadt, Wallis (primarily Sion) and – in the German-speaking part of Switzerland – in the cantons of Thurgau, Aargau and Zurich. The mountain cantons of Uri, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Nidwalden should not see growth above the five percent mark. A stagnant population is anticipated in the regions of Glarner Hinterland, Goms, Engadin, Schanfigg and Davos.

Needs covered almost everywhere

Only in the regions with anticipated above-average population growth, such as in the western parts of the canton of Zurich, the southern parts of the canton of Aargau and the regions of Sursee-Seetal and Gros-de-Vaud is it possible that the undeveloped building zones will be less than what is needed for the new population.

In the cantonal structure plans, the building zone surface area can also be determined by reference to the FSO population scenario. This scenario assumes a population increase of roughly 1.5 million people over the next 15 years – in other words, up to the 10 million mark. Under this extremely optimistic assumption, the anticipated need for building zones in all regions of the cantons of Zurich, Thurgau and Aargau and partly in Waadt and Freiburg will not be covered. The mountain regions, in contrast, will continue to have a large overcapacity of underdeveloped reserves.

Relief from increasing density

In view of the increasing density aimed for by the new spatial planning law, the surface area effectively required to absorb the population growth will sink. According to an ETH Zurich study and the Federal Office for Spatial Development (FOSD), floor area reserves by themselves (implemented floor space adjusted to admissible floor space in accordance with planning) and potential residential space that has already been built up (space with the potential to be redeveloped) offer capacity for up to one million additional residents.

Building land only more expensive in isolated cases

The amount of residential space on offer over the next 15 years should be able to keep step with demand. Analysis shows that there is no lack of building zones for new construction. A large portion of the growth in population could even be absorbed by the existing housing stock without increasing building zones. Increases in land value, consequently, are not automatic, but should be restricted to individual regions and locations.