IRON HEART - Portrait Niklas Siren

Updated: Feb 26, 2018

The vice mayor of Kiruna´s socialist party talks about the city transformation.


Gregor Kallina: What is the role of the community in comparison to the role of LKAB (the state owned mining company) in the course of the city transformation?


Niklas Siren: Well, it is rather natural, LKAB are the experts in iron ore mining and we are the experts in how to build a society. We explain to them what needs to be in place and then we negotiate about providing the community with everything from infrastructure to buildings. We also need experts from their side and we need to reinforce our civil servants to deal with particular situations, especially the legal issues.


Can you give an example for this?


We agreed that LKAB build the new city hall, they pay for it and then they hand over the keys to us. But, as the law foresees, the building has to be written off within the municipality budget. That would affect many sectors, schools, care for the elder people etc. We move the city not only for the sake of the mine but also for the sake of all swedish people, as it contributes to the state treasury, the last 10 years around 50 billion swedish krona. So that is fine, but you cannot put the burden of the city transformation on the taxpayers of Kiruna. In the end we found a legal loophole which allowed us not to include the write offs in our budget.


With regard to the identity and the vision, at the moment there seems to be some kind of "identity gap", as people are planning what to do in the future, but the city centre is not built yet. There is the danger that people´s plans are further developed than what is already tangible, asking themselves „where am i“?


We did a lot of infrastructure like electricity, moving the train station, building roads, etc., but this was not tangible enough for the people. The city hall now is the breaking point and there are hardly people left who think this will not happen. Slowly but surely the mindset of people is changing. After all, there is no alternative to the mine, at least for the next years to come.


"Therefore you have to come beyond the grieving process of what will be lost, but to develop the attitude of „what can we create, what can we do better?“

Picture above: The former building of "Tusen Toner" ("a thousand sounds") it was demolished in 2017. It was right next to the place Niklas Siren grew up.


Are house prices increasing, because people are already starting to move?


Actually not because people started to move, it was more the positive outlook for the mine in the future. Low unemployment, a prosperous future for the mine and high wages contributed mostly to the rise in prices. The miners have high wages, but, to avoid competition, the other sectors and the municipality have also high wages. 35% of the surface area of Kiruna will be lost and moving to new places has started since the decision to transfer the city has been made. Already in the existing areas at the city edges new apartments were built and are being built to meet the increasing demand. In fact also people moved to the new apartments that are not affected by the ground deformations, even when the rent was higher.



Picture above: The current building of Tusen Toner, the local music club. Niklas Siren used to play there with a band.


THE NEW CITY CENTRE


When will the city centre be opened?


If everything goes well, as we hope, it is supposed to open in 2020, but to be realistic, it could also become 2021 or 2022. It takes a lot of time, but sometimes you have to let things take time.


To what extent is the swedish government involved in this process?


Support started to be very slow, actually too slow. Now it is getting better, as they also see the very special situation that demands for solutions on a federal level, particularily with regard to legislation issues and other topics, such as providing experts for taxes, land use, moving houses, etc. We do not have these experts on a daily basis. In the end the process is not only complex and diversified, with many parties involved, there is also a time issue as the ground will give way, no matter what happens. So for LKAB to continue mining, the dedicated land use has to be an industrial one, not residential or rural. As processes with the state authorities went slowly, it was quite close that the mining had to stop, only in the very last moment it was granted to expand the land use for industrial purposes.


What are the issues with the houses that will be moved from the old city centre to the new one?


When you move an old public or private house to a new place it will become, from the legal point of view, a new house, meaning having the same requirements for electricity and sewage standards as well as barrier-free topics. Therefore, a building that could be used in the old place cannot be used any more in the new place. Additionally, with regard to the historical buildings, we have the paradox situation that you have to lift the cultural protection of a historical building first in order to preserve parts of it as cultural heritage for the future. We had exactly this issue with the city hall, where the clocktower will be in the new city centre, but the rest of the building will be torn down.


It is important to notice, that not only our cultural heritage will be saved. It is also essential to have an environment that creates memories and those bulidings represent just that for many people of Kiruna.

And we want to use those buildings also in the future, because it is worth more to protect what is going on inside of them than their outer shell.


THE FUTURE OF KIRUNA


Do you think the moving of all people concerned will work out? Will those owning houses or renting apartments be equally satisfied?


The basic principles with LKAB are set and they correspond mostly to what we have demanded. Also people who rent, who are usually not protected by the law, get a fair proposal with the incremental rent increase over nine years. So this will cover most scenarios, but of course each case is unique. People who rent can also choose to move to an old buliding and they are always first in line for that. What we do not know ist what are people going to choose. What we have seen so far is that people choose the new building option already now and even then when they are not affected by the city transformation. So if this dynamic continues, we will also have a sufficient buffer of old houses.


Thinking about the future, what will you do to diversify the offer the city has to make to its people? Taking this opportunity of the city transformation should also consider some long term perspective, the mine will not be there forever.


That is exactly what we are looking at. The mining industry will be around for some another 100 years and more to come, but it will not be that dominant as now. So what we can do to fill the gap and even grow?

First, tourism has a very positive outlook in this area. We will be doubling the amounts of hotel beds only in the first ten city blocks to be built and there is more to come.

The hotel industry realized that Kiruna is a huge market. The municipality will support this trend by building a conference centre. The second area of future development is the space industry. Currently Esrange rocket base is looking at sending up communication satellites and there are some other projects under way with the government. And last but not least it is the living lab situation of the city transformation itself and its smart city concept, which also attracts scientists and in the end students.



Picture above: Apartment building where Niklas Siren spent his youth from 1981 to 1993 before he moved south to Halmstad and Göteborg to study.



Picture above: Niklas Siren in the Stadshuset, the city hall, standing beside a bust of Hjalmar Lundbohm, the first director of the local mining company and city founder.


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