Bratsberg / Øya protesters sum up the situation

Øya protesters sum up the situation

Lars Vik and Petter Øygarden summarise the heated debates around the development of Bratsberg Brygge, and in particular around Øya out on the river.

The beginning

Petter Øygarden came home from the USA in the 90s. He saw the town with new eyes, and thought it looked quite drab, so decided he wanted to build something new. – Bratsberg Bruk was dilapidated, begins Petter.

– Yes, I remember Bratsberg was a dismal area. There was a driving school, a lot of ´boy racing` and a fast food kiosk, adds Lars. – We went to the Council, continues Petter. We got some architects on board to see what we could do. They had sketches of hotels here and islands there, and huge building complexes. Petter points. It just became too much, he says.

I’d had enough

– Yes, we were shown a sketch of a hotel, a tall building out on the river. It was then that I realised I’d had enough, says Lars. I felt it was utterly wrong to use the river for commercial enterprise. I also thought the sketch was ugly, the building too tall. I felt strongly about such severe and drastic plans.

The debate

How was the debate about the building plans carried out? – Mainly in the newspapers, says Lars. There were no online debates like there are now. Back then we set up a petition! 12000 people were said to have signed it, he recalls. – Our daughter signed it, replies Petter. She was 13. She came home from town and told us she’d been asked to sign her name on a piece of paper. When I asked her what it was, she wasn’t too sure, but said that it had something to do with Øya, explains Petter, laughing.

The struggle

There were a lot of debates about Bratsberg Brygge, says Lars. A lot of people got involved. But that wasn’t until later when people saw that the island was coming, that there were public meetings in the Town Hall square, just before the final town council meeting. There was shouting and screaming. I thought Øya had been scrapped, continues Lars. – But the zoning plans were approved, says Petter. – Yes, I wasn’t fully awake, replies Lars. – But I think the project got better and better each time it was put through the mill, for each open meeting held, for each newspaper article and each architect’s sketch, he continues. – What do you think Petter?

Øya motstandere Petter og Lars

– Yes, it did get better actually. Petter nods. The first thing we drew was a kind of urban zone with housing and two large buildings. In hindsight, we saw perhaps that this was the wrong way to go about developing Bratsberg Brygge. So we had another round of zoning. It was then that Børve and Borchsenius introduced a slat construction down by the river. The whole idea of Øya as a final stage of development involved the structure sloping down to the water. Two buildings on land remain unbuilt, says Petter. We realised they would stand too close had we gone ahead according to the original plan.

– I have lost the island, says Lars. But now it’s here. And the best thing about Øya for me is the café and the outdoor area, which is for everybody. Just think about it, if there had been only apartments here, it would have felt extremely empty. And the square over there, Bratsberg Torg, or whatever it’s called. That’s turned out very nice with the canal, the art and the jetties. I enjoy sitting there. I would have loved to have had a small kiosk or coffee bar there that teemed with people all day long. – We do have five food and drink establishments between Elvebredden and Øya, though – that’s not so bad, replies Petter. People come here when they’re planning to meet up in town.

What has been the concrete outcome of the debate?

Even if I don’t particularly like that island, Petter has managed to get more people to live in town.

– Public spaces, restaurants and canals, replies Petter.We have built good outdoor spaces where people can meet and invest in art and decor. There are large spaces for everyone around Øya, both here and down towards the river. I am happy with the outdoor space. If we hadn’t built the island, we’d have built differently to that on land. When we built the island, we saw a lot of big fish that swam past here. Maybe the footpath on the outside of Øya can become a popular urban fishing place.

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