Nordkapp municipality wins case for the people

Right to free access prevails

The North Cape on the northern coast of the island of Magerøya in northern Norway is the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car.

TOVE ANDERSSON
Oslo

The view is spectacular, but under the aurora sky, a battle took place that affects allemannsretten.

Allemannsretten is one of the most important rights Norwegians have: to move freely in nature, in what is called utmark. Little Nordkapp municipality won an appeal in Hålogaland Court of Appeal against the billion-dollar hotel group Scandic Hotels AS, which for several years has collected parking fees from visitors to the Nordkapp plateau.

Rica/Scandic has collected almost NOK 80 million annually in admission tickets for the area where the E69 road ends. But is it considered innmark or utmark where visitors and locals move around outdoors?

Around 300,000 tourists visit the Nord­kapp plateau annually; 166 cruise calls were reported in 2020, but most tourists are captivated by the landscape and completely unaware of the dispute over the plateau.

“This is a victory for allemannsretten and people’s access to Norwegian nature. This is an important verdict for everyone who wants unique nature experiences in Norway,” said Jan Olsen, the mayor at the time, in a press release.

There was no less joy when the appeal was won by the small northern municipality.

“The Norwegian state is satisfied,” said government attorney Henrik Vaaler, who assisted Nordkapp municipality in court.

“This is a verdict that may have an impact on the ability to charge parking fees in many recreation areas in Norway, so it has the potential to be of great significance.”

The municipality won the dispute, and the hotel chain was ordered to pay legal fees of NOK 1.6 million to the municipality. Now they must also pay court fees of NOK 970,950 and NOK 262,092 to the Ministry of Climate and Environment.

A statue of Bamse, a ship’s dog and war hero, greets a cruise ship that has come into port in his hometown of Honningsvåg in Nordkapp municipality.

Nordkapp is on the German travel magazine GEO Reisemagazin’s top 10 list of unforgettable destinations. The opening of the Nordkapp road in 1956 laid the foundation for 40,000 annual visitors in 1966.

In 1927, Nordkaps Vel, one of the country’s first reisetrafikklag was founded in Honningsvåg and was granted the first monopoly to operate Nordkapp in 1928. A total of three monopolies have operated the plateau over a period of 90 years, a fact that changed the political landscape in Nordkapp Municipality in 2019 when the Labor Party had to step down after several decades in power.

The municipality, with its 2,906 inhabitants, is concerned with the living conditions of future generations, and sustainable tourism. The core of the dispute has been the entrance fee and the Outdoor Recreation Act (Friluftsloven), as well as the fact that the Nordkapp community has received too little in return from its national treasure. The Ministry of Climate and Environment has provided support for Nordkapp municipality because this concerns the interpretation of the Outdoor Recreation Act and people’s access to recreation areas in various parts of Norway.

The Outdoor Recreation Act was implemented on July 1, 1957. The purpose of the law is to protect the natural foundation of outdoor recreation activities and to ensure the public’s right to move freely in nature, so that “the opportunity to practice outdoor recreation with environmentally friendly activities that promote health and well-being is preserved and promoted” (norsk friluftsliv).

Tourists from home and abroad are charmed by Honningsvåg, which officially calls itself “Norway’s summer city,” but behind the scenes, the Nordkapp case has been a cause of fatigue for its inhabitants for many years. The political climate around the Nord­kapp plateau changed the political scene in the municipality, and in 2019, the Socialist Left and the Center Party won the election by a landslide, ending the Labor Party’s reign since World War II. With 37% of the votes, there were no other municipalities that could match the result of the Socialist Left Party in Nordkapp; it was the Nordkapp case, and the question of who will profit from the approximately 300,000 annual visitors—the municipality or Rica Eiendom/Scandic—which altered the citizens’ political vote.

In a politically vulnerable environment, political lines divided the population; a torchlight procession was organized to unify the residents, who have close ties and traditionally stand up for each other. A press release this past summer announced that the mayor at the time, Jan Olsen, resigned due to harassment.

“It is with a sense of loss, with sadness and despair, really, that I am seeking exemption,” Olsen told Sagat.no.

Olsen barely had time to exhale before the Scandic hotel chain appealed. In an article in Ságat he writes: “For everyone else in the country of Norway, ‘the Nordkapp case’ is about the right to move freely in nature without being charged for payment following an ‘understanding’ between capitalists, local authorities, organizations, and politicians. It is about the function and compliance with the Outdoor Recreation Act.”

The Nordkapp case continues as a more than 90-year-old legacy, but tourists do not feel much of the conflict.

Today, you do not have to pay an entrance fee if you don’t use the facilities, which include a cinema, toilet, exhibit, cafe/restaurant, and souvenir shop, but only stay outdoors. That’s a consequence of the court ruling in favor of the municipality and not granting the Scandic hotel chain the right to charge parking fees.

On Oct. 24, Radio Nordkapp reported that Scandic has filed an appeal to the Norwegian Supreme Court after losing two court cases against Nordkapp municipality. 

Photos: Tove Andersson

This article originally appeared in the November 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is www.frilanskatalogen.no/frilanstove, and she can be reached at tove.andersson@skrift.no.