Land policy

Spatial development is the result of interaction between the public sector and the private actors (esp. investors and land owners). To understand the specific spatial development it is necessary to understand the negotiation processes between these actors, whereby especially the positions of power should be analyzed. Here public law (esp. planning law) plays an important part. However, crucial are also the property rights (civil law). The distribution of these political resources explains fundamental differences, which can be observed between planning policy targets and the actual spatial development. This research approach is subsumed under the term "land policy.

More on land policy

A precise definition of the term as well as a scientific derivation can be found in the following publication:

A more detailed overview of land policy strategies can be found in the edited book published in spring 2018, which analyses 13 land policy instruments in 19 countries and, with its structure (main article plus commentaries from the perspective of two other countries), highlights and discusses the international debate on these issues. Link to the publisher


Ongoing activities

More information on the GoverDENSE project can be found under this link.

 Public Value Capture of Increasing Property Values
Duration August 2018 to August 2022
Funding European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020
Description The shortage of financial resources is a Europe-wide problem. Coming out of the economic and financial crisis, countries as well as municipalities have decreasing means to fulfil all their public commitments. For this reason, the main aim of this COST Action is the development of a common framework for value capturing and the provision of innovative tools for public value capture based on comparative analysis to optimize the allocation of development costs and benefits as well as to disencumber the public budget. While a considerable database exists, it nonetheless shows big gaps in the data and in some cases disagreement between sources of data. Because of the different terms of unearned increments and classifications of value capture it is not possible to compare different studies of several countries. This gives strength to the idea of approaching the European Union for a study based on a network of specialist country representatives to get a common terminology and classification. A very important result will be the implementation of a permanent Europe-wide network of land management experts to interchange the knowledge concerning public value capture and its dissemination to policy-makers and the general public. This network allows the improvement of existing tools by detailed discussions with experts of countries that have similar tools. On the other hand, thought-provoking impulses can be given by countries that have a totally different understanding of value capture. Participants from more than 20 countries are willing to work for the socio-economic breakthrough of public value capture.
Involved persons
  • Andreas Hengstermann, University of Bern, Switzerland
    as a COST Participant delegated by Switzerland within the Management Committee
Link Website

Completed activities

Second home policy - A DACH comparison
Duration January - September 2019
Funding Projektpool of the intermediate staff association of the University of Bern (MVUB)
Description Second homes can be problematic in many ways. From the perspective of planning and geography, it is important that scarce building land is not misspent for buildings that are only used very sparsely. In order to meet the demand for building land (e.g. residential area for locals), however, the building zone would be expanded unnecessarily, which is associated with financial (infrastructure) and ecological (loss of cultivated land, landscape disfigurement) consequences. According to federal spatial planning act, this is also unlawful in many cases (oversized building zones, urban sprawl), so that second homes can also lead to massive increases in building land and property prices. Therefore in Switzerland it is consensus that second homes must be regulated by public policy. At the local level, therefore, there have been a variety of approaches to solving this issue. Since 2012, there has also been a cap on the proportion of second homes to a maximum of 20% on a constitutional level.

From an academic perspective, however, there is a lack of a) an overview of these diverse approaches on local level and b) an assessment of their actual effectiveness. The second home problem also occurs in other geographical areas, such as the Austrian Alps or the German North Sea coasts - and political and legal solutions are also being pursued there. Therefore, c) an international comparison is also obvious (within DACH-countries, Germany, Austria and Switzerland).

Involved persons
final product International academic workshop in Bern in September. Information will follow
Land policy impulses for effective land management 
Duration January - August 2019
Funding Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ARL)
Description Exploratory workshop for an International ARL Working Group on "Land Policy Impulses for Effective Land Management"
Involved persons
Final product International workshop in August in Mannheim. Information will follow
Instruments of Land Policy - Dealing with Scarcity of Land (publication project)
The role of land policy strategies in the implementation of spatial planning
Duration February 2016 to February 2018
Funding Funded by research unit
Description Together with Thomas Hartmann from the University of Utrecht, Jean-David Gerber and Andreas Hengstermann are working on an edited book "Instruments of Land Policy - Dealing with Scarcity of Land", which will be published by Routledge in spring 2018. It discusses different land policy instruments with a focus on the effects on land scarcity.

What is special about this book is that each instrument is analysed in a main article and additionally commented from the perspective of two other countries.

Involved persons
Final product Edited book. Published in January 2018. Link to publisher
The role of land policy strategies in the implementation of spatial planning
Duration 12/2012 - 04/2018
Funding Funded by research unit
 Description This research project addresses the influence of land policy strategies on the implementation of spatial planning. How do land policy strategies affect implementation practice in municipalities? The question is examined on the basis of planning law instruments (e.g. SNP, building obligation) which have a far-reaching influence on private property rights and are therefore of particular importance for land policy. In order to gain insights into the strategies of public actors in a variety of contexts and, if necessary, to draw up recommendations for action, the research project has been designed comparatively and examines standardised planning projects in various cantons and municipalities. 
Involved persons

Andreas Hengstermann (PhD-Student, University of Bern

Final product  Dissertation (completed, 24 April 2018)
Planungssysteme in den OECD-Ländern – Faktenblatt der Schweiz
Duration January 2016 - August 2016
Funding Organisation for EconomicCo-operation and Development (OECD)
Description Jean-David Gerber worked together with the OECD for their report on Land-use Planning Systems in the OECD, his contribution led to a Country Fact Sheet about the planning system in Switzerland. The report as a whole aims to give a systematic overview of spatial and land-use planning systems across the OECD. Each of the 32 fact sheets presents an overview of the responsibilities of different levels of government with respect to land-use policies and describes the different types of spatial and land-use plans in the country, including key characteristics of the planning system. Additionally the OECD published the report The Governance of Land Use in OECD Countries: Policy Analysis and Recommendations, which provides policy analysis and a synthesis of the main recommendations from OECD work on land use.

You will find additional information on the homepage of OECD.

Involved persons
Final product Contribution to the OECD series Governance of Land Use
10th Annual Conference of the International Academic Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights (PLPR) in Bern
Duration Organization: December 2014 to May 2016

Conference schedule: 15 - 19 February 2016

 Description The International Academic Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights (PLPR) has hold its 10th Annual Conference in 2016 in Bern.

It was a great conference with a lot of good discussions, speeches and meetings. 

We are looking forward to the next PLPR conference that will take place in Hong Kong in February 2017. 

Involved persons  

Sientific Committee

Organizing Committee


  • Ben Davy (president)

  • Richard Norton (vice-president)

  • Michael Kolocek (secretary-general)

  • Cygal Pellach (PhD coordinator)

  • Eran Kaplinski (appointed liason for North America)

  • John Sheehan (Pacific Rim representative)

  • Sony Pellissery (South-West Asia representative)

  • Kostas Lalenis (host of the 2015 Volos conference)

  • Jean-David Gerber & Andreas Hengstermann (hosts of the 2016 Bern conference)

More information about PLPR ExCo on PLPR Website.

Student Assistants

Jessica Biedermann, David Bumann, Stefan Häderli, Fabienne Herzog, Johannes Jud, Kevin Klopfenstein, Sarah Märki, Sybille Vogel, and Tamara Wüthrich.

Spatial development strategies in the context of the economic development priorities of the Canton of Berne
Duration January 2011 - July 2013
Funding SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation)
Description This project focuses on the strategies followed by local authorities to shape their spatial development in a context where the public sector is under pressure to increase its cost-efficiency. It addresses a research gap in the study of spatial development in Switzerland by analyzing how local authorities use different instruments stemming from private law (public-private partnerships, non-monetary compensations, long-term leases, public property) or public law (land consolidation/reallocation, inciting instruments such as taxes and subsidies, use quotas, building obligation) to complement planning instruments (binding general plans, non-binding master plans, zoning, private plans).

The proposed research is broadly positioned within the critical literature on New Public Management that examines the impacts of the new managerial models on social, economic and environmental sustainability. It draws upon an emerging trend in critical geography (political ecology) to revive the debates on the importance of property rights to understand spatial development.

Involved persons
  • Jean-David Gerber, University of Bern
  • Hanna Jäggi, University of Bern