Giant skyscraper plan meets fury

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Local opposition is strong to wealthy Norwegian industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke’s plans to build a skyscraper at Fornebu in Bærum, west of Oslo. Residents literally in the shadow of the 60-story building are already calling it Norway’s version of Trump Tower.

Industrialist Kjell Inge Røkke’s 60-story building would tower over everything at Fornebu, and seen from miles away. Oslo sprawls in the background, at the top of the Oslo Fjord. ILLUSTRATION: FP Eiendom

“We are outraged over these plans,” Anne Greve, deputy leader of an organization representing local homeowners and promoting historic preservation, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday afternoon when the skyscraper project was publicly unveiled. The nearby Lagåsen area includes the house built by polar explorer and diplomat Fridtjof Nansen called Polhøgda. It now houses the Fritjof Nansen Institute and Nansen himself is buried in its garden.

“All of Lagåsen will be lying in the shadow of this skyscraper,” Greve said, after Røkke’s real estate development company FP Eiendom presented the plans to, among others, Prime Minister Erna Solberg. She was there because the building may one day house the World Ocean Headquarters, a leading research center charged with studying and protecting the seas. Solberg’s government has launched an initiative to save the seas and rid them of garbage and plastics.

The former home of Frithjof Nansen wold lie in the shadow of the new highrise, in an area that preservationists claim is already “under pressure from all sides.” PHOTO: Frithjof Nansen Institute

Also present was Nina Jensen, a marine biologist who was the former head of WWF in Norway. Jensen, who happens to be the sister of Solberg’s finance minister Siv Jensen, was recently hired by Røkke to take the helm of his new research and expedition vessel (REV). She said on Tuesday that “the seas are so important, so when you build its headquarters, it must be seen from everywhere.”

The tower’s developer clearly wants to make a mark on the landscape, but faces furious opposition from local residents and others in Bærum. PHOTO: FP Eiendom

The proposed high-rise, encased by blue glass, would indeed be visible from miles around. NRK reported that Røkke want to build it on the site of a volleyball court at Fornebu-porten, the area where his Aker companies and other ventures are already based. The building would be 80 meters higher than the 34-story Oslo Plaza hotel, which currently ranks as Norway’s highest.

Solberg described it as “a handsome blue building” when she saw the model of it. Others, like Ole Andreas Lilloe-Olsen, a group leader for the Liberal Party in the area, called “big, ugly and ostentatious.” He claimed that it wasa  building “that would only be in Røkke’s best interests,” because he’d stand to make lots more money off his real estate investment.

“To let him build a skyscraper so that the area will get an ocean research center is no guarantee that the center will lie there in the future,” Lilloe-Olsen said. Fornebu’s real estate values are steadily climbing, and he’s convinced Røkke and his business partners will only be concerned with striking the most lucrative leasing deals.

Jan-Christian Mollestad, a local resident who has demonstrated against other large building projects in Bærum, is gearing up to fight this one, too, and hopes Bærum’s “poor local politicians won’t let themselves be tempted by all the glitter.” He believes the building “will rape the sky,” while another local opponent complained that he’s “tired of rich developers who think they can do what they want.”

Øyvind Eriksen, top executive in several of Røkke’s companies, told NRK that he thinks the building project can be handled by local politicians as soon as this autumn. Røkke’s plans call for it to be completed within five years. The mayor of Bærum, who represents Solberg’s Conservative Party, is positive to the plan.

“I haven’t thought to short-circuit the debate now, but I look forward to a good process and that the local council will decide on this,” Mayor Lisbeth Hammer Krog told NRK.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund