North Cape finally freed for visitors

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Norwegians and tourists alike have received a surprise Christmas gift, after the county governor of Troms og Finnmark decided that hotel and real estate company Scandic can no longer charge admission fees to Norway’s famed North Cape plateau. The ruling overrides an earlier agreement between Scandic and the local municipal council.

A winter’s view of the North Cape and its characteristically flat plateau, seen from a naval vessel patrolling the Barents Sea. The North Cape has been a battleground of sorts itself, but now the operator of its visitor facilities can no longer charge admission fees to the plateau itself. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Bjarne Riisnes

High admission fees to the North Cape in Finnmark have sparked controversy for years, and many were disappointed when Scandic’s long-term lease on the area was renewed earlier this year. Scandic charged as much as NOK 285 per person to enter the area last summer, which has long been in defiance of Norway’s national law that’s supposed to ensure access to the nature.

Scandic and the Norwegian real estate company Rica that it recently teamed up with had been able to get around that law for a number of complicated reasons, not least since the state turned over administration of public land in Finnmark to Finnmark’s own public landownership agency Finnmarkseiendommen. Its administrator FeFo renewed Scandic’s lease last December for another year pending local debate over a new plan for the area. When action on that plan wasn’t postponed last summer, Scandic maintained what many have called a “monopoly” on the North Cape, which attracts more than 250,000 visitors every year.

Many arriving in private vehicles have been taken aback by the entry gate set up to collect admission fees, as have bus tour operators, cruise lines and Norway’s coastal voyage line Hurtigruten that dock at nearby Honningsvåg. They’ve mounted formal complaints over Scandic’s practice as have environmental organizations and those championing access to the great outdoors.

They were jubilant when Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Saturday morning how the county governor (Fylkesmannen) has now revoked the permission Scandic received last year, just when its agreement with FeFo was also up for renewal.

‘Great victory’
“This is an especially important and great victory for accessibility to the outdoors in Norway,” Lasse Heimdal, secretary general of Norsk Friluftsliv. “The North Cape plateau is wilderness area, and the area should have always been accessible to everyone without high, illegal admission fees.” The organization he leads had filed one of the complaints over Scandic’s admission fees, which Scandic had defended on the basis of its local agreement with the Nordkapp municipal council in Honningsvåg.

The county governor, however, declared that the local authority had not adequately studied or planned for options to Rica/Scandic’s longtime agreement. It was gounded mostly in the jobs Rica and Scandic created for local residents at its North Cape visitors center, restaurants and other attractions.

Scandic confirmed to NRK that it could no longer charge admission, “so for those who want to visit now in romjula (the holiday period between Christmas and New Year), it will be completely free,” Håkon Knudsen of Scandic told NRK.

Scandic and Rica invested in the visitor center on the North Cape, Nordkapphallen, and will still charge admission to it. Scandic’s visitor facilities at the North Cape have also been criticized, however, with rival tour operators claiming that services and attractions should be better and put up for bidding. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Scandic will, however, still be able to charge admission to its large visitors center (Nordkapphallen) on the plateau and is working on establishing new parking fees for visitors. They’ll be in place during January. Only those hiking or bicycling  to the plateau may actually avoid fees.

The county governor noted that several points in Norway open-access law known  as friluftsloven had been violated, including “a clear imbalance between the size of the admission fees and the services offered in the area.” That seemed to contend that Scandic’s NOK 285 admission fee was simply too high.

The local mayor of the Nordkapp municipality Jan Olsen of the Socialist Left party (SV), was also jubilant of the county governor’s ruling. He and his party had fought against Scandic’s monopoly, only to be overruled by the smallest of majorities when his predecessor, Kristina Hansen of the Labour Party, cast the deciding vote last summer.

“It’s only the actual operating and maintenance costs that can be covered by an admission fee, according to the friluftslov,” Olsen told NRK, “not profits on capital from financial models.” Scandic had used such a model in defending its high fees.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund