Updated: May 2, 2018
The vice mayor of the moderate party talks about Kiruna´s city transformation.
Gregor Kallina: Where do you stand now with the city transformation and where do you want to be? How are you doing this process in a way that people stay motivated and do not lose trust in the process?
Stefan Sydberg: We started very early to involve the local community and to let everybody join the mission. A couple of years ago different groups for different topics were set up to work out what Kiruna will be in the future. Each group developed their own agenda, like transportation, housings and communications. Locals had the opportunity to be part of these groups and to answer question forms, online or in the course of meetings in the city centre and the villages around Kiruna. The results, the vision, were written down, like sustainability, smaller city centre, tighter buildings. Thirty years ago there were 34.000 people in Kiruna, now there are only 23.000 people, mainly due to the fact that LKAB managed to make iron ore mining processes more efficient. In the early 80ies more than 2000 people were laid off, nearly half of the staff. Right now this is the minimum level of inhabitants. Population gets older and we need people to take care of them, the city has to grow for teaching, nursing, etc. However, this is not unique to Kiruna. But you have got to have a special interest to live above the arctic circle, therefore we want to build an attractive town to make people stay: Outside activities, tourism, cultural activities. The city centre now has no boutiques on both sides of the street, people want a more tight city centre, to meet other people, go shopping etc. Now people are more by themeselves.
Picture above: The house where Stefan Sydberg spent his first five years of childhood.
What do you do that people dont lose faith, there is nothing tangible yet, as people were complaining to me?
We made a mistake ten years ago, when we said: "Now we are going to move Kiruna!"
We started too early, people do not see the infrastructure work we did, like power supply or water supply. They noticed that we moved the railroad and built a new road to Nikkaluokta, but people do not notice this as part of the city transformation. Until now, there were in fact only preparations. The city hall being constructed is not enough. I can understand that people are frustrated. This year (2017) is crucial. We want to build as many blocks as possible in the city centre. Basically we are talking about ten city blocks, in 2017 we plan to finish the building contracts of 3-4 of them, both residential and business area. In those city blocks there will be approximately 400 apartments, 400 hotel rooms and commercial as well as business facilities.
What would you say are the main groups involved here in Kiruna, who maybe have a conflict of interests?
Occasionally we do have conflicts between Sami villages and new construction projects here in the area, but there are no conflicts in the new city centre, it is an old industrial area. Younger people want to live together, older people want to be close to the infrastructure, so there is also no conflict of ages. The only issue with the new city centre is that all apartments are new and therefore more expensive. For people who own houses, LKAB can already grant a good price that enables sellers also to buy a new residence in the new city centre. When you have rented an apartment you get an incremental increase of the new rent granted until it reaches the new final level. We are tearing down 3.000 old apartments, from 11.000 apartments and houses in total. So around half of the apartments will be torn down. Three to four years before you have to move you will be offered an apartment in the same price range which are older apartments closer to the city edge. In Sweden we pay 28% of our income for rent. In Kiruna we only pay 15% of income, because houses are older and incomes paid by LKAB are quite high. Also the other sectors have to offer higher wages, otherwise they would suffer from high fluctuation of personnel.
How did your family come to Kiruna?
My grandfather, who was born in Vittangi, he came here in the 50ies and started working as a fireman. That is why i have a special relation to the fire station and i would be glad if we could also save this building. I grew up in Luossavaara, in the same house i live today. The house was built in 1979, the same year i was born and my parents bought it in 1984. I have one brother and two sisters. I moved out of town and then came back and bought an apartment with my wife near the city centre in 2005. We got a second child in 2007 and therefore we traded our apartment for my parents´ house. So i am at Luossavaara again and we like it there. Let´s see how the city centre develops, maybe we go there later.
Picture above: The area of Luossavaara mountain, where Stefan Sydberg spent his childhood.
So your parents will have to move?
Yes, my parents will have to move and sell the apartment to LKAB, the apartment was quite cheap at that time, so they will make a good bargain. Currently LKAB pays around 22.500 swedish Krona for the square metre and this will be quite constant for all apartments concerned. The new apartments will be smaller though, but better designed and with a higher standard. House prices started to rise in 2005 when LKAB decided to implement a new ground level at 1465 metres, so the future was more secure for the city. LKAB hast to buy the apartment from the cooperative and then the cooperative shares the money with the cooperative members. Also LKAB has an interest that people get a fair price because they are building and selling apartments and houses by themselves. Additionally, they have to buy the area that they need to continue the mining operations and therefore to turn them into industrial areas. Since we know how the deformation zone is spreading out, we know that LKAB has to buy it. LKAB buys the houses some years before to find a solution for the owners and tenants. The law foresees that you do not have to take care of the former owners in case you are going ro tear down the house, but of course LKAB cannot act like that, it would be a bad credit for them.
THE MINE AND THE PEOPLE
It is interesting to see the symbiosis, in the end LKAB and the people of Kiruna are the same.
Right, we are living on each other and with each other.
So, for tenants, LKAB subsidizes the rent for nine years, does it matter whether the house or apartment is owned by LKAB or some other landlord?
No, it does not matter, even if you move to an old apartment that is more expensive you are covered by this agreement.
Don`t you think that some people will be angry or jealous, because there are different zones that LKAB is going to buy at different times?
LKAB told people that if they live in an area outside the city centre they will not get a new apartment in the new city centre and the other way round, but of course in the end there will be people who are not happy, you cannot get exactly the same as you had before.
Picture above: The skiing slope at Luossavaara mountain.
THE NEW CITY CENTRE
Why did you choose this location at Tuollovaara and not near Luossavaara?
The space is not sufficient at Luossavaara to build a city centre around it. At Tuollovaara it is more natural, combining the old town, Lombolo and Tuollovaara.
Last but not least it is flat there, so it is easier to construct buildings. Actually my party was in favour of Luossavaara, as we see the city soul more like looking out to the mountains, but our proposal lost. Anyway, you can either say the glass is half empty or half full. I prefer to see it as half full, so we will make the best out of it. It will not be worse, it will be just different. Luossavaara serves more as recreational area and we want to improve the leisure infrastructure there.
What about the new site for the city centre, i heard it is quite polluted.
Well, it is an old mining area, but we are cleaning it up completely, it will be the cleanest area in Kiruna.
I also heard there is some Mercury left in the ground.
No, although it was a big media issue. We have done a lot of testing with companies and professors. In an area where you have a lot of minerals like iron ore, you have a natural concentration of mercury, which is no danger to health.