Palace grounds scrape up debate

A major rehabilitation of the gravel grounds around Norway’s Royal Palace is due to start just after the 17th of May holiday, but a vocal group of civic boosters in Oslo is trying to block the project. They claim pending removal of the loose gravel around the palace will violate cultural heritage laws, and they want the gravel to remain.

On rainy days, the gravel-covered grounds around the palace get rutted and the sand and gravel covering them runs down the hill from the palace towards the street below. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

On rainy days, the gravel-covered grounds around the palace get rutted and the sand and gravel covering them runs down the hill from the palace towards the street below. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

“Those who built the palace and the palace grounds (called Slottsplassen in the area in front of the palace) laid down gravel there,” Jan Sigurd Østberg, leader of the city preservationist group called Oslo Byes Vel, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The gravel was chosen, Østberg claimed, “not because it was a poor man’s solution but because that was how people built a plaza in those days. Our job as the heirs is to maintain it.”

Østberg is lobbying hard to block the rehabilitation project that will dig up the grounds and the gravel and replace it with a form of reddish asphalt ground cover featuring what’s called “stabilized gravel.” The gravel-like surface and the color is meant to imitate the existing grounds without it getting rutted during heavy rains.

Palace officials, passersby and politicians alike have complained for years about how the palace grounds are damaged several times a year during rain storms. In March, Members of Parliament voted unanimously to stop the ongoing erosion by replacing the gravel and resurfacing the area with the material used at several other historic properties around Europe.

“The gravel has always been a problem,” palace officials wrote on the Royal Palace’s official website. In addition to the erosion that sends gravel running down to the street below, they contend that dust from the plaza is also a problem on dry summer days. Slottsplassen, they wrote, “develops holes and ruts that aren’t pretty and are a hindrance for pedestrians and cyclists.”

They added that the trouble with the current ground cover means that 150 tons of new gravel must be poured around the palace every year. “Now that problem will be eliminated,” wrote palace staff.

The rehabilitation project has the full support of officials at the state historic preservation agency Riksantikvaret, but that hasn’t swayed Østberg or his colleagues. They also want to solve the problems caused by heavy rain and contend that can be accomplished with an improved drainage system. They’re not reassured that the new proposed surface will retain the style around the palace.

“There won’t be any gravel,” Østberg complained to NRK. “Slottsplassen’s long period as a gravel plaza will disappear unless we manage to stop this.”

His chances seem slim. Not only do palace officials support the rehab project, director Ulf Holmene at Riksantikvaren said he and his staff were simply in complete disagreement with Oslo Byes Vel.

The project itself is due to begin on May 21 and will force closure of the palace grounds at least until October. The entire project is due to be complete in time for the bicentennial celebrations of Norway’s constitution on May 17th, 2014.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rneve Robert Neve

    Some people’s sheer inability to handle any change is just mind blowing. I’m usually one of the first to keep historic things as they were but in this case not only is the current option really not desired by anyone they are not replacing it with concrete. It will at least attempt to stay with the original keeping.