At Sirkusplassen on Tøyen in Oslo, right by the Botanical Garden, a modern greenhouse the size of Oslo Spektrum was to be built that would accommodate everything from tropical rainforest and foggy forest to the Mediterranean climate, desert and Arctic.
But when the Solberg government presented the state budget for 2022, the Natural History Museum got a surprise. The resigned government proposes to quit.
– It came completely without warning. It was not in the cards that this should happen. It was only when the budget was available that we discovered that it had been shelved, says director of the Natural History Museum, Brit Lisa Skjelkvåle to Dagsavisen.
Many millions lost
According to the museum, the project started with a new greenhouse as early as the 1970s, but the money was then instead used to fix the roof of one of the university’s buildings in the center. After several rounds since the new planning phase started in 1998, the building was completed in 2020 with a cost framework of DKK 807 million. In the state budget for 2022, the museum had hoped for a start-up grant of approximately five million so that the construction project could start.
– It is very violent to shelve such a large project, nor has there been a justification from the Ministry of Education on why they think they will end the project forever, says chairman of the Natural History Museum and former Minister of Finance, Kristin Halvorsen.
Together with the director of the museum, she estimates that the project to date has cost the state NOK 100 million in project costs and government man-years.
– These are investment costs that are lost. It is the taxpayers’ money that is now being thrown away. The greenhouse on Tøyen was to be an important teaching contribution to the schools and universities, a gathering point for the population on Tøyen and an attraction for Oslo, says Halvorsen.
Now they want the new government to redden the greenhouse.
– What we are concentrating on now is to encourage Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Minister of Research and Higher Education Ola Borten Moe and the parliamentary majority to ensure that there is a start-up grant in the budget for 2022, says Halvorsen.
She believes it will not be difficult for the new government to find a place in the budget.
– This is a simple case for Ola Borten Moe to support. We do not need more than five million to get a good start on the project in 2022. The project is ready to go, she says.
In 2019, a number of researchers stated in a UN report that the world is facing a natural crisis because biodiversity is disappearing. It is a confirmation that the greenhouse needs, according to museum director Brit Lisa Skjelkvåle.
– We are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis, and Norway is now missing an important arena for disseminating the plant’s fundamental significance for life on earth, she says.
The Natural History Museum estimates that the greenhouse could accommodate 600 school classes per year, and would be important for science students in Norway.
The educational institutions in Gothenburg, Aarhus, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Lund and Helsinki already have such greenhouses. Skjelkvåle is worried that the University of Oslo will not be able to compete with the universities in the Nordic countries if the greenhouse does not come into place.
Board chair Kristin Halvorsen believes that the greenhouse is also important because it is an innovative renewable project in agriculture, which should ensure more green jobs in the districts of Norway.
The recently resigned Minister of Research and Higher Education Henrik Asheim (H) denies that the Solberg government has put the nail in the coffin for the greenhouse.
– What we are proposing is that the government and the Storting do not proceed with a state grant for this building. This does not mean that the building can not be financed in other ways. This is simply a priority, he says.
Aasheim points out that in the state budget for 2022, funds were set aside for a new life science building in Oslo, which has a total cost framework of approximately DKK 12 billion. In addition, the Viking Age Museum will have 378 million to expand.
Before the state budget was presented by, the board at the University of Oslo (UiO) adopted a list of which projects they believe should be prioritized in support of the state budget. New buildings for the clinic functions at the Faculty of Dentistry came in first place, while a new greenhouse on Tøyen came in second place.
– There are many large projects in line in this sector, and the greenhouse can not be compared with the other large projects, says Aasheim.
– But a new greenhouse on Tøyen was in other places on the priority list for UiO, still it did not reach?
– There are several projects that are already under construction, in addition to several desired projects, and this is not the only building. For example, we have allocated money for the NTNU Campus Collection, and start-up for a construction project and equipment for the Ocean Space Center. We can not just give money to the project, which is at work for UiO. But now a new government has arrived and we will see what they propose.
New construction and rebuilding for the Archaeological Museum at the University of Stavanger will also not be granted funding.
– The project on Tøyen has been planned since the 1970s. The Natural History Museum estimates that up to DKK 100 million has been spent in addition to several man-years. Is it not thrown away, when you now propose that the project be shelved?
– No, I do not think that is a waste. What we have contributed from the public sector is design, and we have gained an overview of the project. Getting project funding does not mean that you are entitled to a start-up grant. Well, they have got an overview of the project and they can find other ways to finance it.
– The Natural History Museum says that this comes totally unexpected to them. Could you have given notice before?
– It is difficult to answer because it depends a bit on what the recipient experiences having received information about. We constantly have dialogue meetings with the institutions, and we try to be clear and honest about what we are proposing. But it is clear that everything can always get better. We experience that we have had a good dialogue with the University of Oslo here.
The new Minister of Research and Higher Education Ola Borten Moe (Sp) states that he will not comment on any changes in the state budget until the new government has presented a proposal for re-prioritization on 10 November.
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Greenhouse on Tøyen
- The greenhouse was to cover a total area of 5000 m².
- Divided into five zones: Tropical rainforest: 1990 m². Elevation 26 m, Mediterranean climate / desert / café: 880 m², Tropical fog forest: 400 m² and Arctic: 80 m².
Source: Natural History Museum.