Swedes to flatpack town 3km away so mine can grow
Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30
Sweden will start dismantling and moving the historic Arctic town of Kiruna this month to make way for the expansion of Europe's biggest and deepest iron ore mine.
Kiruna is the most northerly town in Sweden and is famous for its ice hotel and an historic red wooden church that was voted the country's most beautiful building.
But the town is inhibiting the expansion of state-owned LKAB's mine, once the backbone of Scandinavia's industrialisation.
The solution is to move the town 3km at an estimated cost of over $2bn (€1.88bn).
Despite a recent sharp fall in iron ore prices, LKAB's plan, conceived in 2004, has at least two factors in its favour; it has the support of Kiruna's 18,000 inhabitants and the ore from its mine is among the best in the world.
"We have to move past the grief because we've made a decision and 96pc of the people supported it," Kiruna deputy mayor Niklas Siren told Reuters. "The town and the mine live in symbiosis: there is no town without the mine and no mine without the town."
LKAB is well placed to survive the price downturn, analysts say. It has a premium product, no debt and has a patient owner in the Swedish government.
The 125-year old company has a culture of long-term thinking that also helps to ride out downturns.
"This is not a fun time to be in the business," LKAB chief executive Lars-Eric Aaro said. "This is a cyclical business and you know, after the rain, the sun will shine again."
Most of the town's 1,100 buildings, apart from a few structures including the church, will be demolished and rebuilt in the new town.
"The church will be taken apart, piece by piece, then rebuilt in exactly the same way 3km to the east," vicar Lars Jarlemyr said.
"A town is not just buildings but also people. So when you tear it down, you do the same with a community. People move, get new neighbours, new everything and because everything will be new, it will also be more expensive," Jarlemyr added.
LKAB will either pay owners 125pc of their property's value or provide a new home.
"Cities have been moved before, even bigger ones, but not in a democratic way," said Mikael Stenqvist, the lead architect at White, the firm in charge of the redesign said. "So the scale is big and the process is unique."
Bulldozers will this month start tearing down a neighbourhood closest to the mine, where tremors from underground blasts can be felt.
The new Kiruna will be compact, keeping less mineral-rich land occupied and hopefully avoiding another move in 100 years.
"In a perfect world, downtown, all the shops and restaurants, will shut down on a Friday, sometime in 2018 or 2019 and open up again the next Monday in a new place," Stenqvist said.