Activities subject to permit

Which activities require an environmental permit and how are they classified for such purposes?

Swiss environmental laws do not provide for a general environmental permit and the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment does not set out a general catalogue of projects and activities subject to environmental approval.

While certain activities subject to permit are defined in the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment (eg, the operation of a landfill and the experimental release of pathogenic organisms), other activities subject to permit are defined in specific laws or implementation ordinances (eg, cutting down trees).

Issuing authority

Which authority issues permits?

The required permits are issued by the authority in charge of the relevant matter. As per the applicable laws and ordinances, this may be a federal, cantonal or communal authority.

If several authorities are involved (eg, with regard to water protection, landscape protection and spatial planning), by law the authorities must coordinate their involvement and issue their decisions in a coordinated manner.


What are the procedural and documentary requirements to obtain a permit?

The procedural and documentary requirements to obtain a permit depend on the specific matter and are defined by the applicable laws and ordinances as well as directives, circulars and guides. In practice, it is recommended to contact the authorities in charge at an early stage of the approval process.


Do any permit fees apply?

Pursuant to the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, fees are charged for licences, inspections and special services.

On the federal level, the General Fee Ordinance applies. On the cantonal and communal level, the fee ordinance of the concerned canton applies. In Zurich, for example, the fee for a permit relating to environmental matters is calculated based on a time spent basis, whereby the fee may not exceed Sfr25,000.

Validity period and renewal

What is the validity period for permits and how can they be renewed?

General principles of administrative law apply to the validity period and the renewal of permits. Therefore, individuals may rely on a decision of the competent authority that defines certain rights and duties of the individual. Consequently, a granted permit may be changed or revoked only on a case-by-case basis and under specific conditions. The renewal of a permit is necessary if:

  • the permit has been granted for a limited period;
  • it has been revoked by the competent authority; and
  • there are changes on the side of the permit holder.


Can permits be transferred? If so, what procedure applies?

General principles of administrative law apply to the transfer of permits. Thus, as a basic principle, permits are granted to a specific person or company and can therefore not be transferred to third parties without the approval of the competent authority. If a particular permit is granted to a specific object rather than a specific person or company, it remains in place if ownership in the concerned object changes. 


Are permit decisions subject to appeal? If so, what procedure applies?

Permit decisions on environmental matters are subject to appeal pursuant to the specific provisions of the applicable environmental laws and ordinances and pursuant to general principles of administrative law.

The usual appeal period is 20 or 30 days. The applicable procedure depends on the issuing authority. Appeals against decisions of cantonal or communal authorities are governed by cantonal law on the administrative procedure and decided by the higher administration instance and then, if further appealed, by the competent cantonal administrative court. Appeals against decisions of federal authorities are governed by the Federal Administrative Procedure Act and decided by the Federal Administrative Court.

Decisions by the cantonal administrative courts as well as decisions by the Federal Administrative Court may be appealed at the Federal Supreme Court if the prerequisites set out in the Federal Act on the Federal Supreme Court are met.

Both the person requesting a permit and third parties that have a particular interest in the matter are entitled to appeal against the permit decision. Based on the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment and the Protection of Nature and Cultural Heritage Act, environmental protection organisations that fulfil certain criteria, have a right to appeal as well.

If provided by cantonal law, certain environmental protection organisations acting only on a cantonal level also have a right to appeal before cantonal instances and the Federal Supreme Court.


What are the consequences of violating permit rules and decisions?

Violating permit rules and decisions may lead to administrative sanctions and penalties. Administrative sanctions are, for example, the order to establish lawful conditions or the revocation of a permit. Administrative penalties are usually monetary fines, but can also be custodial sentences.

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