Norway fails to protect its coast

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway is among the worst countries in Europe when it comes to protecting its coastline from real estate development and preserving coastal access. Both private and public players continue to restrict access, and it doesn’t help when the country’s own royal family is among the offenders.

Coastline like this in Asker, west of Oslo, is supposed to be open for everyone. A coastal path offers some access, but often veers away from the coast itself. PHOTO: Views and News

Newspaper Aftenposten recently detailed the problem in a package of articles revealing how officials aren’t doing a very good job of enforcing allemansrett, part of a law approved in 1957 that’s supposed to secure free access to the Great Outdoors regardless of property ownership.

Along Norway’s vast and often stunningly beautiful coastline, for example, fences have had a habit of popping up in recent years, as owners of waterfront property try to keep their beaches to themselves. Many have also built piers and other structures, some legal and some not, or set up various hindrances to discourage Ole Nordmann from strolling by.

What Aftenposten failed to note is that among them are Princess Martha Louise, who sought and won approval for construction and privacy enhancement projects at her inherited summer house at Hanko a few years ago that no else likely would have been granted. Her brother, Crown Prince Haakon, recently won approval to cut off public access to a major portion of an island off Kristiansand where his family is renting another summer house. Queen Sonja’s summer home at Tjøme has made its local coastline off limits for years.

Encroachments like these don’t set a very good example for the rest of the population, but there are some signs that authorities are trying to crack down, especially on the illegal projects that have sprung up.. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported just last week that Norway’s white collar crime unit Økokrim plans to raid several properties, and their owners can get up to two years in prison for violating laws against coastal construction.

Inconsistent regulation
Local townships in charge of enforcing coastal access and regulating construction projects often have inconsistent practices, though, allowing some projects and rejecting others. Construction policies are often far more liberal in Norway than in other European countries that have restrictive practices.

“In Norway we think we’re world champions at preserving the nature,” Marianne Reusch, a lawyer specializing in property issues and public access, told Aftenposten. “But my impression is that when it comes to taking care of the coastal zone, we’re far from that.”

Reusch, who’s finishing up her PhD on public access, notes that the EU countries are developing their own system for coastal zone management that will help keep local practices in line with state law. She sees a far more passive system in Norway.

Rune Svensson of a major council on the outdoors (Oslo Friluftsråd) envies the cooperation on coastal access found in other European countries. “The basis is that the coastal zone is so valuable that no one can privatize it,” he said.

State getting tougher
Erik Solheim, Norway’s government minister in charge of environmental issues, told Aftenposten he’s certain that new state regulations will override more liberal rules set by local governments. He worries that local zoning regulations allow far too many exemptions, but believes the trend will turn as soon as next year.

“There’s clearly too much building going on in the coastal zone in Norway,” Solheim said. “Last year we imposed a new planning and building law that restricts townships’ ability to allow building in the coastal zone.”

One mayor of a coastal community, Askøy in Hordaland on Norway’s west coast, is already threatening to boycott the new state law, though. And it remains to be seen what, for example, Fredrikstad Township will do if the Norwegian princess wants to build something else – or whether Solheim would step in.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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