The city of Bern wants to buy this parking lot for CHF 3.7 million and build a play and meeting zone on it.
The numbers are bleak: the city of Bern is estimating a deficit of CHF 35.1 million for the current year. With one billion and 395 million Swiss francs, she will be in debt to her creditors at the end of the year. That’s what the financial plan says.
Bern would have to save. And yet, at the end of November 2022, the Bern city council decided to buy a plot of land in a residential zone in the Untermatt district in Bern-Bethlehem for CHF 3.7 million. A playground with a meeting zone is to be built on it later – for additional money. Reason: There is an undersupply of play and meeting areas in the district. The plot is around 2300 square meters. That means: The square meter costs the city around 1,580 francs. According to an external survey, this corresponds to an “average value for residential building land with rental apartments in a good location”.
And yet the loan is highly controversial – because only a playground is to be built on the property. Councilor Thomas Fuchs (SVP, 56) speaks of the “most expensive playground in the world”. Councilor Sibyl Eigenmann (37) from the middle double after: “The city has negotiated badly, the price is too high.”
“You should punish that”
Together with a non-partisan committee, the two have therefore launched a referendum against it. The committee consists of the Bernaktiv association, representatives of the SVP, the center, the GLP and the taxpayers’ association.
The referendum committee criticizes that with this project building land in a central location is not optimally developed. This contradicts the city’s housing strategy. In addition to sufficient affordable living space, this also provides for a dense construction.
«Red-Green wants to waste valuable building land for a playground. That’s insane and a waste of taxpayers’ money that should be punished,” says Fuchs. Eigenmann warns that the debts will have to be paid by the very children who will one day play on this playground.
The old owner will continue to use the parking lot until construction is complete
The property now belongs to the pharmacy and logistics group Galenica. It is used by employees as a parking lot. That should continue to be the case. After the purchase and until the playground is built, Galenica should continue to be able to use the area free of charge.
But that’s not all: during this time, the large corporation should even be allowed to keep the income from the rental of around 80 parking spaces. This is despite the fact that Galenica no longer owns the car park at this point!
The committee criticizes that this is a hidden purchase price that is not subject to real estate gains tax. This saves the city a lot of money. “When it comes to the budget, we then discuss again whether you should cancel a few thousand francs for a library because you don’t have any money. That doesn’t work for me, »says Fuchs.
“The rental income amounts to a low five-digit amount per year and is used almost exclusively to promote public transport subscriptions for employees and to maintain the property. There can therefore be no question of a hidden purchase price, »says Galenica on request.
The purchase plans are supported by the SP and Green Alliance/Young Alternative factions. «The property is located in a socially disadvantaged and multi-ethnic neighborhood. There is very little play space there. A green space in this district is therefore very important, »says Michael Sutter (41), Vice President of the SP.
The areas would remain in the residential zone and would not lose value. That has its price. “We therefore see the purchase as an investment in the future. After all, it’s not set in stone that there will be a playground there for the next 100 years,” says Sutter. He concedes that in the tense financial situation of the city of Berne, all expenses must be viewed critically. “But there are no alternatives here.”
Ursina Anderegg (41), city councilor and co-president of the Green Alliance, says: “We find the rhetoric of the luxury playground cynical. Children have a fundamental right to play spaces, and the city has an obligation to provide them.” It is also important for the city to get more of its own land.
1500 signatures by the end of January
«Sure: The cost of the property seems high. But when you see for how many people something is being created there and a deficiency can be remedied, you have to say that it is money well invested,” says Anderegg.
The referendum committee has until the end of January to collect 1,500 valid signatures and force a city vote on the deal. According to Thomas Fuchs, more than 1,600 signatures had already been received by Friday, which they wanted to have certified.