Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Culture

Developers, prime ministry and city continue to war as work set to resume at controversial construction site

By Staff

  • An argument over a wall and a date The city and developers argue the decision by the prime minister to protect the old harbour quay has no legal value as the desision was taken one day too late. Photo/GVA

Work which was set to resume today at a construction site by the old harbour in downtown Reykjavík has been postponed after the Prime minister calls a meeting with developers, the local news site visir.is reports. The developers and Reykjavík city authorities claim attempts by the state to protect a part of the old harbour quay which runs through the site have no legal power, as it was taken a day too late. The developers have threatened to sue the state for 2.2 billion ISK in damages (17 million USD/15.5 million EUR) if construction is stopped.

Read more: See the old harbour emerge in an archaeological dig in a downtown parking lot

An argument over cultural heritage and land use
The site has been the centre of controversy since it was discovered a large part of the oldest harbour quay was almost completely intact. After the quay, which forms a wall running diagonally through the site, was discovered, many wanted it protected, some suggesting the site should be used for a public park, rather than construction as initially planned. Developers have planned housing and shopping at the site.

The prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, quickly positioned himself as one of the loudest spokesmen for preserving the quay, thereby putting him at odds with developers and city authorities which wanted work at the site to proceed. Originally it was believed this part of the old harbour had been constructed more than a hundred years ago, which would have automatically made it a protected structure, but later photographs taken in 1928 showed work at the site, which would have meant developers could legally tear down the quay.

A bureaucratic snafu voids efforts to protect the structure, saving the state billions in damages?
In early September, the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland decided to place the structure under a temporary emergency protection while the matter was investigated further. The Agency then decided to recommend the quay be permanently protected. The Prime minister has the power to declare structures protected, and on October 22 the office of the prime minister issued its decision to protect the quay.

According to the local news site visir.is the city and the lawyers of the developers argue this decision has no legal power, as it was taken a day too late. They argue that according to law a decision on permanent protection must come within exactly six weeks of the decision on emergency protection. They point out this decision had been issued on September 9, which means the October 22 decision came a day too late. However, the prime minister and the Cultural Heritage Agency claim the initial decision was not effective until September 10. The reason is that when the written decision arrived at the prime ministry after office hours on September 9, and was only handed to the prime minister himself the next day.

As work is resuming at the site it is not yet clear how the prime minister or Cultural Heritage Agency will respond, but according to visir.is the developers have threatened to sue the state for 2.2 billion ISK (17 million USD/15.5 million EUR) in damages if work is indeed stopped.

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