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Thursday, July 18, 2024

North Cape open without charges

A court in Western Finnmark has ruled that hotel chain Scandic can no longer charge parking fees to visitors to the North Cape. That effectively ensures the reopening of one of Norway’s top tourist attractions, which became expensive to visit in recent years.

This iconic Arctic plateau, known as the North Cape, has been subject to legal battles in recent years over public access. Now a local court has ruled that visitors can no longer be charged parking fees that amounted to an entry fee. PHOTO: Berglund

“This is a victory for public access to Norwegian nature,” wrote the municipality of  Vestre Finnmark in a press release after the court decision was handed down late last week. “This is an important verdict for everyone who wants outstanding experiences in Norway.”

Scandic Hotels AS was also ordered to pay NOK 1.6 million in court costs after the court issued its verdict after a lengthy legal process. Scandic had filed the case against the municipality of Nordkapp after it finally had ruled that Scandic, its tenant at the North Cape, could no longer charge cars and motor homes what amounted to high entry fees at a gate north of Hønningsvåg that blocked access to the entire North Cape plateau. The fees were eventually banned by the municipality, opening up the plateau, but prompting Scandic to sue.

After an 11-day trial, the court in Vestre Finnmark ruled in favour of the municipality and claimed that Scandic had no right to charge parking fees on what’s essentially public land. Scandic had argued that it invested large amounts in its visitor center at the site and needed the revenues from tourists ariving by bus and car.

Scandic took the verdict under advisement. “We will study the verdict carefully and then decide whether to appeal,” Knut Sigurd Pettersen, regional director for Scandic Hotels AS, told state broadcaster NRK. He also said Scandic was disappointed by the verdict.

Challenged public access law
Local Nordkapp officials had voted on a measure last December that ordered Scandic to stop charging NOK 350 in parking fees to motor homes and NOK 200 for cars parking at the famed plateau. It’s otherwise considered public land and thus should be open for all at no charge under Norway’s recreational law known as friluftsloven.

Stig Aspås Kjærvik of the Nordkapp municipality was relieved and pleased by the verdict. “We were reasonably confident about the outcome because the case had previously been evaluated by both the local manager for the state (statsforvalter, formerly fylkesmann) and the civilian ombudsman,” Kjærvik told NRK. “And we couldn’t understand that we had interpreted the law incorrectly.”

Kjærvik claimed that Scandic’s insistence that it, as operator of the North Cape visitors center, could charge what amounted to entrance fees was “an attack on friluftsloven,” the state law that guarantees public access to public lands. He also thinks it’s wrong that the local municipal authorities were sued. Scandic, in his opinion, should have sued the state.

Divisive issue
Nordkapp mayor Jan Olsen added that it “isn’t easy for a small municipality to take responsibility for state public access laws alone.”

The North Cape access issue also divided the local community, since Scandic’s presence has created important jobs in the area. Now Olsen hopes the court verdict will calm the local population.

“Now we have a court decision, a decision by the state’s representative, the (state) directoratet’s decision and municipal interpretation all with the same conclusion,” Olsen told NRK. “I hope that will be accepted and that we have done the right thing.” Berglund



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