It's a big question asked by many developers and investors when it comes to major infrastructure projects - how do you go about constructing big developments without treading on toes, potentially ruining the previous character of an area and ensuring the local community are on side from the start?
Andermatt Swiss Alps, which Property Investor Today has visited for both its summer and winter season in recent years, has a clearer insight than most into how to conduct a major development while acheiving buy-in from locals.
Here, we speak to Stefan Kern - head of PR and communication at Andermatt Swiss Alps - for his views on how they did it.
What are the first steps involved when considering a major development such as Andermatt? Is it difficult to get planning permission, for starters?
One of the first steps Samih Sawiris took when looking to invest was to meet with the people from Andermatt and the surrounding villages. It was very clear for him from the beginning, that a project of this scale would not be successful without the support of the local people.
As for the planning permission - in Switzerland there are very strict rules and regulations on where you are allowed to build housing.
That said, because the Ursern Valley and the whole Gotthard region is historically very important for Switzerland, the Swiss government agreed to this development as it would help the area thrive again.
Andermatt received the support of 96% of residents – how did you go about achieving this?
To achieve the support of the residents in Andermatt it was important to engage with them at an early stage, and clearly highlight what the benefits would be for the town and the community.
In Andermatt specifically, many of the residents were conscious that the town was in decline following the withdrawal of the Swiss Army and concerned about the future.
Once Samih Sawiris and his team explained his plan for the town, how the development would revitalise tourism and the local economy (whilst preserving the character of the town) it was clear that the development was in the best interests of the residents.
Samih Sawiris is very charismatic and made the effort to speak with the residents face-to-face in German. Patiently, he answered all of their questions.
Do you need to include them in the design and planning process?
The masterplan and each of the apartment houses are the result of an international contest between architects. However, there was a council involved in the decision-making process that included all different kinds of people, not just architects.
Is it possible to carry out a major development like Andermatt without driving up prices, building homes that are unaffordable for local residents and destroying the local character of an area?
It is possible to carry out a major development without a negative impact on residents. In Andermatt, the clear vision of Samih Sawiris to expand the town, without affecting the culture, has been consistent throughout.
The development of the properties, designed in a Swiss Alpine style has ensured the “old” town and the newer developments blend well together. The 5* Chedi Andermatt is a great example of this – the dark wooden style used on the outside of much of the hotel makes it an extension of the existing town, creating the impression that it has been there for many years, rather than only being completed in December 2013.
It’s not only apartment houses and hotels that are being built; the infrastructure for activities is much better. The state-of-the-art Andermatt Concert Hall, the 18-hole (par-72) Championship Golf Course and the connected skiing area (from Andermatt to Sedrun and Disentis) are just three of them. With more on offer to the local community, a small increase in real-estate prices is natural.
From your experience at Andermatt, are investors concerned about whether the resort has support from the local community?
Yes, the support from the local community is crucial for the success. Without support, there would not only be objections around the construction of new facilities such as new restaurants or shops, but they would not be visited by the locals. Hence it was so important to Samih Sawiris to find out what the local people thought and ensure that he had their full support.
In a general sense, how can investors benefit from choosing a resort that has buy-in and support from local residents?
When investors are able to invest and buy property from a development that has buy-in from the local residents, they can be more confident that their investments will be protected from a local backlash, preserving the value.
Similarly, investors looking to use the properties can enjoy a more welcoming and friendly environment in Andermatt, viewed as part of the town, rather than as outsiders.