Potential regular readers of this blog will have noticed by now that I don’t write about local politics in Ume√•. The reason in straightforward: I find Ume√ł politics completely and utterly uninteresting. Being the political editor of one of the local papers must be one of the worst jobs in the media business if you don’t take to writing about national politics, historical US presidents or the like.
As it is, Ume√• in all of its drab 1970s-style dullness is in fact full of projects and ideas – which then take ages to be realised, if they don’t turn out to be castles in the air. Ever heard about “The Town Between the Bridges”, the “Gigantic Adventure Swimming Bath”, “√Ėn” or the “City of 150.000 People” (I’m sure that one will send shivers of fear down the spines of the Chinese leaders)? I have. And then some.
Transport infrastructure – or lack thereof – is another troubled part of Ume√• politics. The E4 highway runs right through central Ume√•, making it one of the most polluted towns in Sweden, and projects for a by-pass has been making endless rounds between the town council, planners and the government in Stockholm without even coming close to fruition.
The Botnia railway-link between Sundsvall and Ume√• has been hit by more delays than a Danish InterCity-train and more lawsuits than you can possibly imagine in a second rate TV court drama. That the local council insists on building houses right next to what will become a heavily trafficked goods link (the √Ėbacka II-project) just adds to the entertainment.
And then there is the Finnish problem. Sweden and Finland used to be linked by a number of ferry connections but cheap air traffic and the end of tax-free sales killed off nearly all of the them. The Stockholm – √Öbo/Helsinki links only survive because an anomaly in the status of √Öland means that ferries can sell tax-free alcohol and tobacco if they make a short – largely symbolic – call at Mariehamn.
Ume√• (or to be more precise Holmsund) used to have a link with the Finnish town of Vaasa but the shipping company pulled the plug not long after the end of tax-free. This meant that you either had to fly (extremely expensive) or travel by road via Haparanda (a 10-hour journey) to get from Ume√• to Vaasa. In the end Ume√•, Vaasa and various regional bodies managed to negotiate a deal for public support for a ferry line run be the upstart RG Line, created by local Vaasa businessman Rabbe Gr√∂nblom, aka. the Finnish Pizza King.
The journey from 2001 up until today has not been a smooth one. The economic support has been questioned continuously and the reliability of the various ferries employed on the connection has been left wanting at several occasions. And now, in a fit of something, the local council in Vaasa has decided that it no longer wants to support the ferry. And that could very well be the end of Fenno-Swedish connections across Kvarken unless the Finns change their minds.
What the good people of Ume√• – and their leaders in particular – are dreaming about? That the EU (which people in these parts of Sweden otherwise loathe) and the Swedish and Finnish governments will splash out billions on Euros on a bridge between Holmsund and Vaasa.
I kid you not.
PS: Just a clarification – the Holmsund-Vaasa connection receives public support from Finland, not Sweden.