Suspicion swirls on holiday island

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The mayor of an island community that’s a popular holiday destination in Southern Norway has asked local police to look into suspected irregularities regarding its building permit process. Speculation is rising over whether some wealthy owners of holiday homes will be ordered to tear down the so-called hytter they may have been illegally allowed to build.

Tjøme is a popular island community known for high-priced holiday homes known as hytter. Now its idyllic image has been shattered by suspected conflicts of interest and too many wealthy property owners being allowed to avoid zoning regulations. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Karl Ragnar Gjertsen

Suspicions have been swirling on the islands making up Tjøme kommune, even before recent documentation of how property owners have been allowed to excessively build, modernize or add on to their holiday homes. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) has reported, in a series of articles, how owners of disputed building projects have used the same local architect, who in turn dealt with the two men in charge of building permits on the island.

DN uncovered a pattern of how the architect often obtained political approval for a building project, only to then apply for modifications to the project that often have greatly increased their size and scope, or allowed other changes that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed under local zoning regulations. DN also uncovered errors and deficiencies in permit applications, violation of ethical regulations and apparent conflicts of interest. Both of the men working for the municipality have also worked in alternating periods directly for the architect.

Local residents and owners of holiday homes adjacent to the controversial building projects have also discovered that the finished hytter don’t conform to drawings presented at the outset. Neighbours have found themselves robbed of their views and the character of their own property has changed entirely.

In one case, the heiress to a large cosmetics fortune in Norway even blasted away shoreline to make room for a new boat dock. An offended party responded by spray-painting a profanity on the rocks that were left intact.

Charges have flown that the wealthy hytte owners always seem to get what they want, and suspicions of corruption are rampant. Both the architect and the municipal employees who have cooperated with him firmly deny any wrongdoing.

An initially unresponsive town council finally ordered a probe by accounting firm BDO, which claimed there was no corruption but which also found several serious flaws in the permit process. That probe has now been sent to police for further investigation, over the objections of those who fear that if no immediate sign of criminal corruption is found, the case will be dropped. They want a municipal commission to launch a new probe that also will delve into documentation uncovered by DN.

Calls are also going out for the state economic crime unit, Økokrim, to investigate, and for any permits that were granted illegally to be revoked. In those cases, hytte owners may be forced to tear down what was illegally built, but one lawyer told DN that may have to done at public expense since what they built was deemed legal at the time.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund