Enable Javascript in your browser for an improved experience of regjeringen.no

Meld. St. 22 (2008-2009)

Svalbard

To table of content

10 Longyearbyen and the other local communities

10.1 Longyearbyen

Since the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard, Longyearbyen has continued to evolve in the direction of resembling a mainland municipality, and has consolidated its position as a modern family community, with a well-developed public infrastructure and a generally good array of services. However, the Government assumes that Longyearbyen will not become a “cradle-to-grave” commun­ity, which the Storting also endorsed in its debate of the Office of the Auditor General’s administrative audit of Svalbard, cf. Recommendation No. 46 (2007 – 2008) to the Storting, Recommendation from the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs. This means, for example, that public services in important fields such as health and social affairs are non-existent or are limited. For more details see Chapter 5 Legislation. The review of the tax system in Svalbard in 2007 concluded that a tax level approaching that of the mainland would probably trigger demands and expectations of an expansion of services in Longyearbyen. This could potentially put pressure on the objective that Longyearbyen is not to be a “cradle-to-grave” community, changing the nature of the Longyearbyen community in the long term. An expansion of health and social services would, moreover, have major economic consequences. The continuation of a non-cradle-to-grave community has therefore been adopted as an important premise for the low tax level in the archipelago.

A wider variety of economic activities has been facilitated in Longyearbyen since the beginning of the 1990s. The effort has been a success and has resulted in the emergence of tourism, retailing, education and research as complementary and alternative industries to coal mining. The number of businesses in Longyearbyen has increased in areas including retailing and service production, and many of these are aimed at visitors. Consequently, the array of private services in Longyearbyen is relatively ample, even compared with offerings in mainland communities of similar size.

The number of inhabitants has also risen in step with the general increase in activities in Longyearbyen. However, in its deliberation of the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard, the Stor­ting found that a population of 1,200 – 1,400 was sufficient for maintaining a viable and stable family community. At the same time it was pointed out that the number of inhabitants could vary somewhat in size depending on random changes in the composition of the population. Throughout its history, coal mining has been the mainstay of the Longyearbyen community. In connection with this Report to the Storting, the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) reviewed the importance of coal mining to Longyearbyen at the request of the Ministry of Justice. NIBR concluded that coal mining still represents the most important mainstay in the community, and the analysis shows that by discontinuing coal mining 40 per cent of the FTEs in Longyearbyen and Svea would be lost.

According to the population register the population of the Norwegian communities in the archipelago passed the 2,000 mark in 2006. As previously described in the report, many of the employees of the mines and derived activities commute from Svalbard to the mainland during their time off. However, they are for the most part registered as living in Longyearbyen and are thus counted in the population register. The actual number of residents of the Norwegian communities in Svalbard is consequently somewhat lower than the figure of 2,055 shown in Figure 10.1.

Figure 10.1 Change in population and full-time equivalents (FTEs) in Norwegian
 communities in the archipelago 1991 – 2007.

Figure 10.1 Change in population and full-time equivalents (FTEs) in Norwegian communities in the archipelago 1991 – 2007.

Source NIBR – Bjørnsen and Johansen (2008)

Population changes in Longyearbyen are largely driven by the employment market, i.e. the number of jobs and inhabitants is closely linked. This is also illustrated in Figure 10.1 through the growth in the number of FTEs. It is still the case that people primarily travel to Svalbard in connection with employment. The growth of the population in the 2000s can therefore be attributed to a higher level of activity and associated demand for labour. The authorities note that with the current population and level of activity in Longyearbyen, the communities are nearing capacity with respect to infrastructure. Growth of the population and activities could trigger a need for investment in day care and school buildings, housing, water supplies and, not least, generation of power and heat. The mining company Store Norske is considering cutting its annual production volume and in conjunction with planned downsizing this could reduce the level of activity in Longyearbyen somewhat.

Another fact is that the structure of the population itself has changed. Foreign nationals now make up approximately 15 per cent of the population of Longyearbyen. This change is a reflection of the Svalbard Treaty’s provision of equal liberty of access and entry in Svalbard for nationals of the contracting parties, which is currently enforced so that in practice access to Svalbard is equal for nationals of all countries. Consequently, the Immigration Act does not apply to the archipelago. The group of foreigners can be divided into three categories: foreigners from countries that are exempt from visa requirements for travel to mainland Norway, foreigners who have been granted a residence permit on the Norwegian mainland before coming to Svalbard and foreigners who come directly to Svalbard without any connection to mainland Norway. The foreign nationals represent a resource and an important addition to the community in Longyearbyen. At the same time it is also a challenge for Norwegian authorities to inform these residents of their rights and obligations ensuing from their decision to live in the archipelago. Foreign nationals in Svalbard who have no connection to any municipality on the mainland do not have the same access as Norwegian citizens to the welfare schemes of the mainland, see further details in Chapter 5 Legislation.

As shown in Table 10.1, Thai citizens make up a significant share of the population. Otherwise most foreign nationals are from the Nordic countries, Germany, Russia and other parts of Europe. Certain facts concerning foreigners in Longyearbyen are covered in more detail later in the chapter.

Table 10.1 Population of Longyearbyen by nationality. 31.12. 2002 – 2008

  2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Norway 1450 1507 1591 1607 1699 1708 1692
Thailand 49 48 52 66 64 67 88
Sweden 35 39 42 47 42 50 51
Denmark 14 23 26 26 22 22 28
Germany 14 20 16 26 24 30 23
Russia 12 13 20 34 34 37 27
Other Europe 40 58 56 60 60 73 78
Countries outside Europe 23 16 20 20 21 26 31
Total 1637 1724 1823 1886 1966 2013 2018

Source Svalbard tax office

10.1.1 Development of local democracy

As part of the development of local self-government the Longyearbyen Community Council has been assigned important tasks. In 2002 the Community Council took over ownership of Svalbard Samfunnsdrift (SSD), and from 2007 responsibility for Longyearbyen School. One of the tasks of Bydrift KF (formerly SSD) is the generation and distribution of electric power and heat. By taking over the school the Community Council considerably expanded its responsibilities in the form of primary school, upper secondary education, day care facilities for schoolchildren, extracurricular cultural activities and Norwegian lessons for foreign language-speaking adults. Besides these tasks, the Community Council has important duties in line with municipalities on the mainland (cf. section 6.3.2).

Figure 10.2 “Me on my scooter on our way to the cabin in the evening.” One
 of the three winners in the drawing competition “My Svalbard – why
 Svalbard is a good place to live” at Longyearbyen School.

Figure 10.2 “Me on my scooter on our way to the cabin in the evening.” One of the three winners in the drawing competition “My Svalbard – why Svalbard is a good place to live” at Longyearbyen School.

Source Fredrik Lund, 1st grade.

The reason for introducing local democracy in Longyearbyen was, pursuant to Proposition No. 58 (2000 – 2001) to the Odelsting, the same as for municipal self-government on the mainland. By electing their own community council the residents of Longyearbyen have an opportunity to influence decisions and priorities concerning local matters. This provides better adaptation of ser­vices to local needs. Stronger local democracy stimu­lates greater participation among the local popu­lation, which in turn can have a positive impact on the sense of community in local life.

Introducing a new local democracy has been a special and important project followed up in two evaluations. At the request of the Ministry of Justice and the Community Council, NIBR carried out studies relating to the establishment of local self-government and the election of 2007. The first report from 2005 showed that half of the residents of Longyearbyen were opponents of local self-government. The second study from 2007 showed that a modest, positive change had taken place in attitudes to local democracy. Voter turnout was around 40 per cent in both 2003 and 2007 and must be viewed in the context of major in- and out-migration in the population, few political conflicts, and general satisfaction with the public services that are provided.

The Government does not see that there is any alternative to local self-government in Longyearbyen in line with what applies to all other local communities in Norway. Nonetheless, it is important to be aware, as NIBR pointed out, that even though attitudes to local democracy have become a bit more positive, scepticism to local self-government is still quite prevalent. Another important point made by NIBR is that due to the need for a direct presence by government authorities in Svalbard, the local democracy’s freedom of action is narrower than for municipalities on the mainland. In its investigation of the management of Svalbard (Doc. No. 3:8 (2006 – 2007)), the Office of the Auditor General said the Community Council has a demanding role in the interface between national and local politics. The importance of a formalised dialogue between central and local authorities was pointed out in this context.

The Longyearbyen Community Council has been and still is in the midst of an exciting period of rapid change. It is a young local democracy that has been in operation for only seven years, during which time two Community Council elections have been conducted. Experience indicates that local democracies are strengthened and acquire greater legitimacy over time. A local democracy has intrinsic value while at the same time central authorities benefit greatly from being able to deal with a local administrative body in Longyearbyen. It is for precisely that reason that the Government and the administration have emphasised close dialogue with the Community Council.

The Government wants local democracy in Longyearbyen to evolve and progress. While the state is responsible for facilitating and creating good operating parameters, it is primarily up to the Longyearbyen Community Council to ensure local development and sound political content. In the recently submitted Report No. 33 (2007 – 2008) to the Storting, Eit sterkt lokaldemokrati (A strong local democracy), the Government pointed out that local development is the responsibility of the municipalities.The municipalities have many opportunities to involve residents in shaping policy, for example by using community hearings, local referendums, beneficial use of ICT, emphasis of the ombudsman role of politicians etc. The democracy report also points out the right to make recommendations to the municipal council as an important means of exerting influence and that there are no restrictions in the Local Government Act (or the Svalbard Act) indicating that this right must be vested in the administration. These are also useful contributions with respect to the development of local democracy in Longyearbyen.

10.1.2 Infrastructure

An expansion of the private and public sectors has taken place in parallel with the increase in activities in Longyearbyen in the last decade. Another result of this is that large areas have been built on and densification in existing spaces has increased. Both homes and commercial spaces have been built, and overnight accommodation capacity has been increased to meet the demand in this area.The Longyearbyen Community Council is currently preparing a new land-use plan for Longyearbyen. The plan will lay the framework for future urban development in Longyearbyen. Spaces suitable for further development for housing and commercial purposes are limited in the land-use planning area. As the planning authority, it is therefore a challenge for the Longyearbyen Community Council to use the spaces efficiently and in a manner that provides freedom of action for further development. The Government believes that land-use planning and meeting current known needs should take any future tasks and opportunities into account.

Completed in 2005, Svalbard Research Centre gathers all the academic communities in Longyearbyen. The Research Centre is a beautiful building and also houses Svalbard Museum, which was awarded the prestigious European Museum of the Year prize in 2008.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which will help ensure protection of the genetic diversity of the world food plants for future generations, opened in 2008 (see separate piece in Box 10.1).

Textbox 10.1 Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Figure 10.3 

Figure 10.3

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established by the Norwegian government in 2008, offering an additional safety net for preserving plant diversity, mostly of plants important for food and agriculture. In 2008, more than 320,000 different duplicates of seeds were sent to Svalbard from 22 national and international gene banks from all over the world. The purpose of the gene banks is to protect plant diversity and to prevent the loss of genetic characteristics that may be used in the future. To meet the challenges relating to the need for increased food production and climate change, it is important to have access to genetic diversity to be able to develop plants capable of adapting to new growing conditions and new production requirements. The seed vault will have capacity to accommodate 4.5 million different types of seeds and is built as three large caverns in the permafrost in a mountain near Svalbard Airport. The seed vault is administered by Norway via the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. NordGen, an institution under the Nordic Council of Ministers, is responsible for day-to-day operations and the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Rome is an important partner in the operation of the seed vault. Since its opening on 26 February 2008 the facility has become known throughout the world as the “Noah’s Ark of Seeds” and the “Doomsday Vault”. The interest it has generated has served to spotlight the important global effort to preserve and ensure sustainable development of plant genetic resources, and to promote Svalbard as an internationally interesting research community.

To accommodate the increased air traffic, a new terminal building was opened in 2007 at Svalbard Airport, Longyear. Furthermore, the increase in the population of Longyearbyen resulted in expansion of Longyearbyen School, and the expansion and building of a new day care centre. In 2007 the new Northern Lights Observatory (Kjell Henriksen Observatory) was opened in Adventdalen.

In 2004 subsea fibre optic cables were laid between Svalbard and the mainland to enable the Norwegian Space Centre to offer customers better and faster communication between the SvalSat satellite station and the rest of the world. However, because its capacity is far greater than the current need for transmitting satellite data, Longyearbyen has one of the world’s most modern Internet solutions and Norway’s fastest Internet connection. After the fibre optic cable was laid SvalSat has also expanded its activities through the establishment of many downloading antennas. For more details about SvalSat see Chapter 9 Commercial activities.

As described above the Government notes that Longyearbyen is in the process of reaching its capacity with respect to infrastructure. This may trigger investment needs including energy supply, housing, day care and student places and also pose challenges to local authorities in Longyearbyen. The state policy instruments for modifying such changes have evolved over time, and there is reason to believe that compared to before private players and interests will increasingly be able to affect the future development of the Longyearbyen community, with respect to its size and array of services. In this manner the development of Longyearbyen will increasingly resemble the development of local communities on the mainland. Nevertheless the Government believes that employing key policy instruments such as laws and regulations, the local and central administration, appropriations over the national budget and the exercise of state ownership will help to steer developments in a direction compatible with the objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard.

Figure 10.4 Longyearbyen

Figure 10.4 Longyearbyen

Source Sander Solnes, the Governor of Svalbard

10.1.3 Energy supply

With respect to the power situation in Longyearbyen, a 2002 consultant report from KanEnergi estimated that the current coal-fired main power plant that produces energy and district heating has a limited lifetime estimated to last until about 2020. At the same time the power plant is subject to Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT) treatment requirements. Bydrift KF has estimated the investment costs relating to such treatment at approximately NOK 60 – 80 million. With the increase in activities that has taken place in Longyearbyen over the past decade and subsequent greater demand for energy and heat, the overall burden on energy supply in the community has grown. Consequently, the present coal-fired power plant is in the process of reaching its electricity production capacity limit. At the same time Bydrift KF is seeing a steady increase in the maintenance costs for the power plant. Continuing growing demand in Longyearbyen, resulting, for example, from the establishment of energy-intensive research infrastructure will moreover be able to trigger a need for considerable investment in energy production at an earlier time than what has been specified in the KanEnergi consultant report.

Sound infrastructure that enables the Norwegian community to meet challenges and take advantage of opportunities in this area is a priority task. The Ministry of Justice is aware that Bydrift KF, with the aid of external consultants, has initiated an effort to illuminate environmental accounts for new power production based on coal, diesel, oil or natural gas as a source of energy. It is expected that such accounts will be presented during the spring of 2009. In light of this, the appointment of a working group charged with preparing a report as the basis for further decisions that must be taken regarding future energy supplies in Longyearbyen, should be considered. The working group should be headed by the Ministry of Justice, which administers the Svalbard budget and annually appropriates funds to the Longyearbyen Community Council, and otherwise have representatives from relevant local and central players. The report, which is to ensure the best possible decision-making basis for the central authorities, should, on the basis of different scenarios for energy demands, contain a quality-assured analysis of the expected lifetime of the existing main power plant, with an overview of investment needs and future needs for maintenance of existing facilities. Furthermore, various proposals should be prepared for how the future energy supply in Longyearbyen is to be built.

In 2007 the Storting appropriated NOK 20 million for a new reserve power plant in Longyearbyen. The facility, a centrally located diesel power plant, was finished around the end of 2008/beginning of 2009. It was presupposed that this plant could also be the first step to a future main power plant. The remaining investment costs of the reserve power plant are covered by the Longyearbyen Community Council through user financing.

10.1.4 Longyearbyen port – needs and opportunities

As previously mentioned in the report, recent years have witnessed a trend of increasing ship traffic in the Arctic areas. Figure 10.6 shows the development of traffic in to Longyearbyen port. Longyearbyen currently has three quays: Gamlekaia (Old Quay), Kullkaia (Coal Quay) and Bykaia (Town Quay). The latter is Longyearbyen’s public port, and covers the town’s need for port facilities for heavy cargo and cruise traffic.

Figure 10.5 Longyearbyen port

Figure 10.5 Longyearbyen port

Source Sander Solnes, the Governor of Svalbard

In connection with the deliberation of the 2006 Svalbard budget (Budget Recommendation No. 14 (2005 – 2006) to the Storting), the Storting through the Committee on Foreign Affairs stated the following: “The Committee is aware that the Longyearbyen Community Council is working on new land-use plans, including plans for the port area. The Committee will stress the importance of the affected ministries, in cooperation with local authorities in Svalbard, to determine the existence of any national needs and how such have to be preserved through the planning process.”

Against this background, the Longyearbyen Community Council has in cooperation with the Governor of Svalbard studied the issues and need for the availability of port facilities in Longyearbyen. The various needs of the Longyearbyen Community Council, the Governor, the Coast Guard and other government agencies were described; at the same time, external consultants assessed the cost of building a new port.

A feasibility study looked at ground surveys and described various technical port solutions and their cost. The report concluded that building a port located on the west side of Bykaia will meet the stated needs. The cost overview that followed the report showed that this proposal, which was also the least expensive alternative, came to more than NOK 85 million.

Today, the ship traffic around Svalbard primarily consists of cruise and goods traffic, research-related shipping and fishing vessels used in commercial fishing. The trend in recent years shows as mentioned that ship traffic to the Arctic areas is increasing in general, which is also confirmed in Figure 10.6, which shows that the number of calls in Longyearbyen has gone up considerably since 2000. In 2005 the capacity limit of Bykaia, which serves tourist and cargo vessels, was reached.

Figure 10.6 Number of port calls in Longyearbyen.

Figure 10.6 Number of port calls in Longyearbyen.

Source Bydrift Longyearbyen

Figure 10.7 shows the increase in the total number of passengers arriving at Longyearbyen port. The increase is due to more ship calls in general plus the fact that ships, particularly cruise vessels, have become larger. In light of the capacity limitations, the main challenge for Longyearbyen is to serve the different needs of the various types of traffic within a relatively short summer season.

Figure 10.7 Number of passengers in Longyearbyen port.

Figure 10.7 Number of passengers in Longyearbyen port.

Source Bydrift Longyearbyen

As mentioned by way of introduction in the report, an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer may also open completely new east-west routes to international shipping. In light of increased commercial and industrial activities in the Arctic Ocean, Longyearbyen will have to expect to take on increasing importance as a base for rescue and pollution clean-up operations and with respect to maritime services. In this connection, existing know-how and expertise on Arctic technology and logistics found in various communities in Longyearbyen may be a resource that can be developed. Increasing maritime activity in the area will also place demands on bolstering the rescue and emergency response work in the archipelago and adjacent ocean areas.

10.1.5 Range of services including health and welfare services offered

Over time Longyearbyen has evolved from a “company-town” with a one-sided economic base and range of services provided by the coal company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS, to one gradually resembling an average mainland municipality in a steadily increasing number of areas. The broadening of the economic base and services is an important part of this. In many areas services are now fully equivalent to those provided by mainland municipalities with which it is natural to make a comparison. However, as previously described, Longyearbyen is not meant to be a “cradle-to-grave” community and the differences in the services offered are accordingly adjusted, cf. discussion in Chap. 4 Main objectives and instruments and Chap. 5 Legislation.Studies and research show that the population of Longyearbyen is basically satisfied with the services that are available. In particular this applies to the services for children and young people.

Services in Longyearbyen are provided by central and local government players, and by private and state-owned enterprises. A basic level of these services is provided via the Longyearbyen Community Council, the hospital in Longyearbyen, Governor of Svalbard and many other different private and state players. As mentioned, the Longyearbyen Community Council is the provider of all infrastructure services within the Longyearbyen land-use planning area. This includes generation and distribution of electricity and heat as well as water and sewer, refuse collection, roads, port operations, building permits and local fire and rescue services. The local body is also responsible for operating the school and day care centres and children and family services. In addition, there are a number of other services and programmes under the direction of the Longyearbyen Community Council: library, sports hall and swimming pool, neighbourhood facilities, youth club, self-governing youth club and cinema.

The Longyearbyen Hospital division of the University Hospital of North Norway Trust is primarily an accident and emergency care facility. Outpatient examinations, evaluations and treatment of illnesses and injuries are also provided along with planned minor and intermediate operations.

Longyearbyen Hospital also provides a number of services that are not provided at hospitals on the mainland. In addition to general medicine as practised by general practitioners on the mainland, the hospital offers a midwife and public health nurse service, physiotherapy service, dental service including orthodontics, company health service and optician service.

Child and youth psychiatry services are also provided by mainland psychologists and psychiatrists who are regularly available for consultations, and a similar programme for adults is currently being tested.

Emergency medical services consist of the medical emergency call service, urgent care service, ambulance service, rescue helicopter service (organised via and in cooperation with the Office of the Governor) and air ambulance.

The services provided at Longyearbyen Hospital are meant for the residents of Longyearbyen and the other Norwegian settlements in the archipelago. Emergency medical services are also provided to others travelling in and around the archipelago and the adjacent ocean areas.

Today, the Longyearbyen Community Council offers Norwegian lessons to adult foreign nationals. This programme has been funded by an earmarked grant through the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion budget. This transfer will cease on 1 September 2010 due to the discontinuation of the transitional programme initiated in connection with the implementation of the Introduction Act (Act No. 80 of 4 July 2003 on an introductory programme and Norwegian language instruction for newly arrived immigrants).The Government believes providing Norwegian language instruction for newly arrived foreign nationals is of material importance to the Longyearbyen community, and will work to find solutions to be able to continue the programme after 1 September 2010.

In addition, a number of services are supplied by other private and public agencies in Longyearbyen. These services are both of a more infrastructure-related nature, such as airport and data and telecommunications, and service functions such as banking and postal services. In addition, the communities have a variety of shops, cafes and hotels, restaurants and other establishments. Situated in Longyearbyen, Svalbard Church is part of the Church of Norway. Open to all, the church may also be used by the other communities in Svalbard.

10.1.6 Postal services

Postal operations in and to and from Svalbard are carried out in compliance with Act No. 73 of 29 November 1996 relating to the provision of universal postal services (Postal Services Act).The overriding requirement Posten Norge has to meet is that its basic services, i.e. delivery of letter post up to 2 kg, of newspapers and periodicals up to 2 kg to subscribers, or of parcel post up to 20 kg, and basic banking services – have to be available to the popu­lation all over the country through a nationwide postal network.

Longyearbyen Post Office is the main office for postal services in Svalbard. Postal services are also provided at: Isfjord, Ny-Ålesund, Hornsund, Barentsburg, Sveagruva, Hopen and Bjørnøya. The level of service at these post offices varies. Longyearbyen provides full year-round services. Ny-Ålesund and Barentsburg have year-round branch office services. Elsewhere, services are somewhat more limited compared with a branch office. All mail to and from Ny-Ålesund is handled by Longyearbyen Post Office and sent on to Ny-Ålesund by air two or three times a week in the winter and up to five times a week in the summer. Most mail to and from Svalbard is flown between Tromsø and Longyearbyen, and mail services to and from Svalbard are now almost as good as on the mainland.

In the autumn of 2006 Posten began using its own cargo planes for carrying mail on the Tromsø-Longyearbyen route (Monday-Friday). This led to faster mail delivery. In particular the time it took to mail parcels was dramatically shortened. Posten now offers delivery of business parcels in Longyearbyen, thereby providing a service equivalent to “door-to-door delivery” to businesses on the mainland.

The cost of the air service is just under NOK 20 million per year. To utilise the cargo capacity that is available, the mail plane also carries ordinary goods to the Svalbard store. The mail plane has thus provided considerably improved regularity for transporting goods to the store, particularly with respect to groceries and fresh meat, fish and produce. Posten regularly evaluates postal services and postal services for Ny-Ålesund, Sveagruva and Barentsburg and has regular dialogue with the largest companies in these communities. Russian authorities have applied to open their own post office in Barentsburg and want generally better postal services to and from Barentsburg. The Ministry of Transport and Communications is evaluating these issues.

The present postal services in Svalbard are considered to be satisfactory. There are no plans to make significant changes in the services. The aim is to keep the postal services at their present levels, subject to any adaptations called for by changes in settlement and/or activities in Svalbard. The Government is of the opinion that the principle of uniform postal rates for letters should apply to Svalbard. In other words, the price levels for services should correspond to the price levels for corresponding services on the mainland. Higher rates are charged for packages due to considerably higher freight costs than on the mainland.

10.1.7 Telecommunications services

The telecommunications network and services were liberalised in Norway in 1998. The telecommunications legislation, Act No. 83 of 4 July 2003 relating to electronic communications (Electronic Communications Act), applies to Svalbard with the exception of the competition rules in Chapters 3 and 4. The same authorisation regime applies as on the mainland, with the exception of authorisations relating to the establishment of satellite earth stations, where the provisions of the Svalbard Treaty necessitate special rules.

Although rules permit more commercial players, Telenor ASA is still the main provider of telecommunications networks and services to Svalbard. Previously, telecommunications traffic between the mainland and the archipelago was carried by satellite communications with limited capacity.

In 2004 Svalbard was connected to the mainland via fibre optic cables. Two separate cables were laid, one of which is a back-up. The purpose was to improve communications to and from Kongsberg Satellite Services satellite earth station at Platåberget, a mountain overlooking Longyearbyen.

Norsk Romsenter Eiendom AS owns the cables, and Telenor Svalbard AS has an agreement on operating the connection. Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), Uninett and Telenor Svalbard lease cable capacity from Norsk Romsenter Eiendom, and use this capacity to provide their own services to their customers. The business community, public sector activities, research and education activities and the population in general currently have access to telecommunications services that are just as good as those on the mainland through the virtually unlimited capacity of the cables linking the archipelago to the mainland.

In 2005 a new radio link with considerably higher capacity than before was installed between Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen. This permits the operations in Ny-Ålesund to use the capacity in the fibre cables more efficiently. In 2006 a similar new radio link was installed between Longyearbyen and Svea.

Besides modern services for business and public administration, Telenor Svalbard currently provides modern triple-play solutions (telephony, IP-TV and broadband Internet) to the population in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund. Today, approximately 2/3 of the homes in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund have a broadband connection.

Going forward, it will also be possible to put other initiatives in place to use the capacity in the cables.

Both NetCom and Telenor have established mobile phone services (GSM) in Longyearbyen, Svea and Barentsburg. Both also cover large parts of Adventdalen, Van Mijenfjord and the Isfjord basin. In addition, Telenor has installed “turbo-3G” to deliver “mobile broadband” in Longyearbyen.

In compliance with the provisions of the Ecom Regulations, a frequency licence has been issued to the Russian mobile communications network in Barentsburg.

Telenor also provides maritime coastal radio services (VHF and HF) in Isfjord and large parts of the west coast of Spitsbergen. Isfjord Radio on Kapp Linné continues to be an important station for Telenor’s maritime services, Avinor’s flight communications and the AIS service (boat traffic).

10.1.8 Taxes, commuting

Effective fiscal year 2008 the Government made certain changes in the tax system for Svalbard. The amendments – cf. Proposition No. 1 (2007 – 2008) to the Odelsting, Skatte- og avgiftsopplegget (direct and indirect tax system) 2008 – statutory amendments, were a direct follow-up of the report of a working group whose mandate was to review the tax system for Svalbard. The group’s report was presented by the Ministry of Finance on 30 April 2007.

As a basic principle, 8 per cent tax is to be withheld from earnings in addition to National Insurance contributions for those who are members of the Norwegian National Insurance system. For combined annual incomes above 12 times the National Insurance basic amount, the tax withholding is 22 per cent. A new rate structure has also been devised for corporate and capital taxation; the tax rate for such income is now 16 per cent. The changes are meant to facilitate a stable, simple and practical tax system for Svalbard.

The 30 April 2007 report and the subsequent proposition for amendments to the tax system also called for an expedient working group charged with looking at other specific parts of the tax system for Svalbard. The mandate of this working group was to look at three different factors: current practice for commuting between homes on the mainland and work in Svalbard, certain special fiscal schemes for foreign settlements, and certain technical adjustments of the tax liability provisions.

In the report submitted in November 2008, the working group proposed tightening current taxation practices for commuting between one’s home on the mainland and work in Svalbard. A proposal was made to discontinue the special wage taxation scheme applying to employees of Trust Aktikugol at the end of a statutory transitional period. Furthermore, the group proposed that after a gradual phase-in the ordinary rules for taxing wages shall also apply to employees of Trust Arktikugol beginning fiscal year 2015.

The report of the working group was circulated for a broad consultation in the autumn of 2008, with 1 June 2009 deadline for comments. After this process has been carried out and evaluated, the Government will follow up with any statutory and regulatory amendments that may be necessary.

10.1.9 Formative conditions for children and young people

The number of children and young people has grown in step with the evolution of Longyearbyen into a modern family community. In 2008, Longyearbyen’s population of children and young people aged 0 – 19 totalled 372, up from 297 in 2000. At the same time the number of small children is growing the fastest, e.g. the number of children under the age of one doubled from 2002 to 2008. The percentage of foreign language-speaking children has also doubled since the 2002 – 2003 school year. During the 2008 – 2009 school year foreign language-speaking pupils from seven different countries made up 12 per cent of the pupils.

Longyearbyen has three day care facilities, all of which offer full-day day care places for children aged 0 – 6 years. Longyearbyen currently has 100 per cent day care coverage, i.e. an offer of a place within the maximum deadline of three months from the application date. All together, the day care facilities have added 52 places in the last two years on account of in-migration and a higher number of births.

The responsibility for Longyearbyen School was transferred from the state to the Longyearbyen Community Council starting 1 January 2007. Supervision of the school rests with the County Governor of Troms, with the Governor of Svalbard providing assistance on issues relating to Svalbard. Longyearbyen School has both a primary school and a section for upper secondary education plus day care facilities for schoolchildren and extracurricular cultural activities. In the Government’s view, it is essential that the day care facilities and school in Longyearbyen continue to maintain programmes that keep pace with the population numbers and structure.

The upper secondary school offers general studies at all three levels and has an ambulatory system for vocational programmes. Under this system, the school attempts to offer the program or programmes desired by the majority of upper secondary pupils, usually in cooperation with the business community in Longyearbyen. The school does not have the capacity to offer vocational programmes at the final third-year level. The Longyearbyen Community Council’s school board (Oppvekstforetak KF) has entered into a partnership with Troms County to enable upper secondary pupils in Longyearbyen to compete on equal terms with pupils from Troms County for school places in Troms. In this manner, the family does not necessarily have to return to their home county should Longyearbyen School not be able to offer the desired line of study. This agreement also makes it possible for pupils in Troms County to attend school in Longyearbyen if they meet specific criteria. However, the programme does not apply to foreign pupils. The reason for this is that only Norwegian citizens are in principle entitled to a place through their right to an education in their home county. The Government will consider the possibility of permitting the Longyearbyen Community Council to enter into exchange programme agreements between Longyearbyen School and Troms County for the foreign pupils attending school in Longyearbyen. Through such an agreement the pupils concerned will be able to meet the criteria for what is called a residence permit for educational purposes on the mainland and will thereby be granted entry to the mainland for this purpose.

As with rural outpost schools on the mainland, the percentage of foreign language-speaking pupils can be a challenge in view of the special needs this group of pupils may have in regard to language instruction as well as other special needs. Furthermore, children with special needs are a challenge for Longyearbyen School, not least because several key laws do not apply. Apart from statutory benefits, the Government believes that the Community Council must assess which special programmes and services are to be provided to individuals on the basis of an overall assessment. Such an assessment must be seen in light of the resources the services require and be proportional with the rest of the services that are provided.

In line with state policy on sport, gaming funds have been allocated over the years to Svalbard to build and maintain the swimming pool and sports hall. In the same manner as for the mainland, each year gaming funds are allocated from the grant programme to local clubs and organisations to support the voluntary efforts of clubs that organise sports activities for children and young people.

Social, welfare and health services for children and young people are provided through a combined midwife and public health nurse function at Longyearbyen Hospital and by the Longyearbyen Community Council, department for children and family services (which by and large match similar services on the mainland): municipal health service, educational and psychological counselling service, social services and child welfare service. The Family Protection Office Act was applied to Svalbard in the spring of 2008. The Ministry of Children and Equality is working with local bodies to establish a service, which will likely be an ambulatory programme based out of the family protection office in Tromsø.

The public health nurse and midwife service is provided today by one person and includes a number of services: complete school health service, health clinic for mothers, children and pregnant women (while there are no ordinary obstetrics services in Longyearbyen, pregnant women are closely monitored due the long distance to the nearest ordinary delivery room), guidance for families with adjustment problems and provision of all types of vaccinations and inspection functions together with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. The increased activities resulting from these services will make it necessary to consider an upgrade. The Longyearbyen Community Council is responsible for ensuring the well-being of children and young people through its municipality-like functions. These include youth work, which the Community Council has organised into four main areas: Project Young in Longyearbyen, Longyearbyen Youth Club, Longyearbyen Youth Council and a self-governing youth club. There is broad political agreement in the Community Council to give priority to providing a healthy formative environment for children and young people in Longyearbyen, cf. NIBR Report 2006:2 Democracy on the decline. The report also states that it is in this area people believe the Community Council has achieved most after the introduction of local democracy.

10.2 Other local communities

10.2.1 Ny-Ålesund

Situated in Kongsfjord on Spitsbergen, about 100 kilometres north of Longyearbyen, Ny-Ålesund is the northernmost settlement in Svalbard. At 1 September 2008 the community had 41 year-round residents, but its population multiplies many times over during the summer season. The origin of the settlement was coal mining, but these activities were discontinued following a major accident in 1962. Since 1965 the community has been a research station run by the state-owned limited company Kings Bay AS, which is both owner and has responsibility for operating the infrastructure at the site. The purpose of the company is to provide services to and promote scientific activities and to help develop Ny-Ålesund as an international Arctic science research station. With the exception of services such as the police, rescue and emergency response system, the services provided are mainly governed by what Kings Bay AS offers and facilitates through its activities. Ny-Ålesund does not have medical services and the hospital in Longyearbyen is therefore used when needed. Given the size and location of the place, its infrastructure, which includes a quay and air strip, is relatively good.

As mentioned Ny-Ålesund is connected to the fibre optic cable between Longyearbyen and the mainland. “Radio silence” is otherwise in place at the site, which is an advantage for scientists and their use of passive receiving equipment. In addition, the community has the world’s northernmost post office and its own store. The vicinity otherwise features a large number of cultural monuments from mining operations and from the time the place functioned as a base for many North Pole expeditions.

Textbox 10.2 Norge over the North Pole 1926

Figure 10.8 The airship Norge in Ny-Ålesund.

Figure 10.8 The airship Norge in Ny-Ålesund.

Source Norwegian Polar Institute

While Svalbard has been the starting point for many North Pole expeditions, the first to arrive there was the airship Norge in 1926. The airship was designed and built by the Italian colonel Umberto Nobile, who was also its pilot. Funding was mainly provided by Lincoln Ellsworth, an American, while Roald Amundsen planned and headed the expedition together with Ellsworth. An airship hall measuring 110 metres long, 34 metres wide and 30 metres high was built in Ny-Ålesund – becoming Svalbard’s biggest building – along with a 35-metre high mooring mast. Norge took off on 11 May 1926 with 16 men on board. The trip took 16 hours and on 12 May at 0130 hours the Norwegian, American and Italian flags were dropped down on the North Pole. Norge landed in Teller, Alaska on 13 May and was dismantled. This was the first undisputed observation of the North Pole. Roald Amundsen expected to find land, but could see only ice. Spitsbergen Airship Museum opened in Longyearbyen in 2008. The purpose of the museum is to communicate the history and the role the airship has played in the Arctic.

Considerable investment has been made in Ny-Ålesund in the last 10 years. As a result the place is now a very good and functional base for international natural science research and climate monitoring. The overriding objective of this investment is to develop Ny-Ålesund into one of the world’s foremost places for Arctic climate and environmental research. Opened in 2005, the Marine Laboratory is an example of these efforts. NOK 25 million has been allocated through the 2009 national budget to build a new and more environmentally friendly power station in Ny-Ålesund.

The international aspect of Ny-Ålesund provides the place completely special qualifications in a research context. Today, Norwegian, German, British, Italian, French, Japanese, South Korean, Chinese and Indian research institutes have a permanent base here. In addition to these, other research institutions also use the place without being there year-round. In all, around 20 countries conduct research projects in Ny-Ålesund each year on a variety of subjects including the climate, atmosphere, pollution, plants, animals and ocean.

The increasing international research interest in Ny-Ålesund serves to set strict standards for how the place is to be run. To protect the fjord area, including important research installations in the ocean and on the seafloor, the Svalbard Act was amended in 2005. A new provision now authorises restrictions on activities that may harm research, and separate regulations closing off large parts of Kongsfjord to fishing activities have been issued. The measures are a follow-up to Report No. 9 (1999 – 2000) to the Storting, Svalbard, and its discussion. In the Government’s view, it is important to continue protecting Ny-Ålesund and the surrounding area as a reference area for research. In this connection the Government wishes to take a closer look at the cruise traffic in Kongsfjord and the challenges it creates. For further details see Chapter 8 on Knowledge, research and higher education.

10.2.2 Sveagruva

Located at the end of Van Mijenfjord, Sveagruva (hereinafter referred to as Svea) is the site of Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (Store Norske)‘s main coal mining operations. Operated since 2001, about 20 million tonnes of coal have been taken out of the Svea Nord mine. According to calculations, this mine will be exhausted in 2013 – 2015, and the company is working on plans for further operations at four other sites in the Svea area: Luncke­fjellet, Svea Øst, the “Fringe Zone” and Ispallen. The idea is to be able to use already established infrastructure connected with the Svea Nord mine for mining these deposits, cf. the coverage in Chapter 9 on Industrial, mining and commercial activities.

Svea is a pure mining and production site and is operated by employees commuting from Longyearbyen, mostly by air. A requirement ever since the start-up of Svea Nord is that its operations would be based on commuting from Longyearbyen. Transport of all goods takes place either by boat or tracked vehicles from Longyearbyen during the winter.

Figure 10.9 Ny-Ålesund

Figure 10.9 Ny-Ålesund

Source Heinrich Eggenfellner

10.2.3 Bjørnøya and Hopen

Bjørnøya and Hopen lie south and east, respectively, of the island of Spitsbergen. Even though Bjørnøya is located just about as far from the Norwegian mainland as it is to Spitsbergen, the island belongs to Svalbard.

Norway has been present in both of these places for many years, primarily through the manned stations of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Bjørnøya has about 10 people present at any given time, while all together four persons are stationed on Hopen. In addition, the sites can accommodate a few scientists if needed. All of the people permanently stationed on these two islands are employees of the Meteorological Institute and are engaged for six months at a time. However, the personnel also have functions in addition to purely meteorological duties, particularly concerning research activities, ambulance and rescue services.

The Government’s High North strategy maintains that the Government wishes to maintain Norwegian activities on Bjørnøya and Hopen. To assess this in more detail, the Government appointed a working group in November 2006 to look at the Norwegian presence in these places. In step with greater activity in surrounding waters, and in the Arctic in general, there is no reason to believe that the importance of permanent presence will diminish. In the absence of any real alternatives, the Government therefore finds that the current presence of manned weather stations should continue.

10.2.4 Barentsburg and Pyramiden

Barentsburg lies in Grønnfjord in Spitsbergen and is following the closure of Pyramiden in 1998 the only local community in Svalbard with a permanent Russian company presence. The place was previously the site of extensive coal mining. In contrast to Longyearbyen, Barentsburg is still organised as a “company town” where the company Trust Arktikugol both owns and operates all activities at the site. In addition to mining, there is also some scientific activity, plus commercial activities in the form of a textile factory, a souvenir shop and a place to stay. The company has a quay in Barentsburg and helicopter operations in connection with the mining activities, with a landing field on Heerodden right outside the town.

Barentsburg has been hit by a series of accidents and other mishaps in recent years. At the beginning of 2006 a coal waste tip outside town started on fire after overheating for a long period. With the help of crews and equipment from Store Norske the fire was finally contained before burning itself out. In March 2008, a helicopter operated by Trust Arktikugol crashed during landing on Heerodden. In April the same year fire broke out in the coal mine below the town. Coal production had been reduced before that to a minimum and after the fire broke out, production ground to a halt. All together five people died in these incidents.

The nature of the activities in Barentsburg has changed and they have been cut back considerably in the last 10 years. From being a place to live for well over 900 residents in 1999, the town had about 440 residents on 1 September 2008. Some improvements have been made to the place of late but plans for major and important infrastructure are still unclear. A Russian government commission was appointed in 2007 to consider the future Russian presence in Svalbard. The Commission visited Barentsburg in the autumn of 2007. According to the plan, the Commission’s report was supposed to be presented in the first half of 2008 but has yet to be submitted. It is presumed that the report will aim to describe challenges and opportunities for Barentsburg in the future and include proposals for any measures. How the environmental aspect of the activities in Barentsburg will be followed up is covered in Chapter 7 Environmental protection.

10.2.5 Hornsund

The Polish research station at Isbjørnhavna in Hornsund has been in operation since 1957. The station has been permanently manned since 1978, with around 10 scientists wintering there each year. Hornsund is also regularly visited by scientists and others who use the place as a base for shorter and more seasonable research assignments. The station is operated by the Institute for Geophysics at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Research at the site is related to many disciplines, including meteorology, seismology, glaciology and various forms of environmental monitoring.

Go to the top
Go to front page