Petrol Prices Dropping

The reference price of petrol in Iceland has fallen for three months in a row, Kjarninn reports. The current reference price for petrol is ISK 215.5 ($1.80/€1.58) per litre, which is the lowest it’s been since it hit a three-year high in October 2018. At that time, the reference price for petrol was ISK 224.3 ($1.87/€1.64) per litre. The last time petrol prices had been that high in Iceland was June 2015.

Although the price of petrol has been falling, the mid-January figure is still 8.4% higher than it was in the middle of January 2017, when petrol cost an average of ISK 198.8 ($1.66/€1.46) per litre. For reference, the króna to US dollar exchange rate dropped by 10.2% in 2018, and the cost of crude oil on the global market has dropped by just under 12% since the middle of January 2018. The exchange rate is an important factor on the sale price of petrol in Iceland, as the purchase price of imported petrol is calculated in US dollars.

The Icelandic state takes a portion of the profits from each litre of petrol sold. Thus, in 2018, 20.46% of the cost of petrol went toward a special petrol tax, 12.69% went to general petrol tax, and 3.83% went to a carbon tax. Lastly, 19.35% of the sale price is VAT.

All combined, 121.39 krónur from every litre of gas sold went to the Icelandic government in 2018, or 56.33%. The highest that the government’s take has reached is 60.26% in July 2017.

Expanded Víkurgarður Protection Draws Criticism

The Cultural Heritage Agency’s decision to expand the boundaries of the protected area around Víkurgarður square is now being challenged by the Reykjavík District Attorney, who says that the proposed placement of a new hotel entrance will not disturb any historical artefacts, RÚV reports. Although hotel construction on the site had resumed with the agency’s approval, the organisation made the snap decision in January to expand the previously designated area of protection around the square, citing the location of one of the hotel’s entrances as its motivation for doing so.

The Víkurgarður site – which stands atop an ancient cemetery – has been the cause of heated debate between those who want to see it protected from development and those who say that the hotel that is to be constructed there will not disturb any artefacts of historical import. Current real estate estimates value the plot at close to ISK 775 million ($6.5m/€5.7m), but the site also has a long and storied history: Víkurgarður was the site of one of Iceland’s first Christian cemeteries, which was established in the 11th century, shortly after Iceland adopted Christianity. The cemetery was officially demolished in 1838, but burials continued there until 1883.

Months of debate

Construction on the site was originally halted in November, when a coffin was found during the initial excavation. Construction then resumed almost exactly a month later, when the Cultural Heritage Agency suggested that protection of the area should only cover the part that is classified as an official city square in city plans. This would then leave the area surrounding the concrete square unprotected and would allow hotel construction to continue.

In January, however, the Cultural Heritage Agency made the decision to widen the previous protection boundaries, because one of the new hotel’s entrance is slated to extend out toward the square. This decision came as a surprise to the developers. “We expect this is based on some misunderstanding,” remarked Jóhannes Stefánsson, the managing director of the Lindarvatn Real Estate Developers. “…[T]he area that’s been granted instant protection is just gravel; there are no artefacts there that necessitate [protection].”

Agency “doesn’t have the authority”

Ebba Schram, the City of Reykjavík’s District Attorney echoed Lindarvatn’s assertion during a City Council meeting on Thursday, saying that not only is the sudden protection status not in keeping with established laws on the protection of cultural heritage, but moreover, the proposed entrance will not disturb any artefacts or remains.

During her sharply worded address, Ebba maintained that the agency had not provided any evidence that artefacts would be destroyed or damaged if one of the hotel entrances does eventually face Víkurgarður. Hotel guest foot traffic does not represent any change to how Víkurgarður is currently used, she said, noting that the paved square has been a park since 1883 and open to the public since the end of World War II. The idea that hotel guests will prevent the park from maintaining its protected status is then, she said, baseless, as hotel guest foot traffic will not change anything about the appearance or future use of the square.

The DA continued that the Cultural Heritage Agency had had ample time to come forward with complaints about the design plans, even well before the coffin was discovered on the site in 2018. She also said that the Cultural Heritage Agency did not have the authority to issue instant protection out of hand.

As of this writing, it remains uncertain whether the hotel will be built according to its original specifications.

Over 150 Laid-Off Airport Services Employees Get Jobs Back

Airport Associates, the company which provides air terminal service at the Keflavík International airport, has reinstated the jobs of 156 of the 237 employees that it laid off at the end of November, Vísir reports.

Before the layoffs, around 500 people had worked for Airport Associates within a variety of departments: ramp service (loading and unloading luggage from aircraft), load control, passenger services, freight, cleaning, and security.

The layoffs were in response to operational difficulties with WOW air, which itself laid off over 100 employees in December, as well as cancelling international routes, selling its flight times at Gatwick Airport, and reducing its fleet by almost 50%. In January, however, WOW air reached an agreement with investors regarding adjusted terms on the bonds that were bought at the airline’s auction last year. The agreement was a condition of Indigo Partner’s investment in the airline.

Airport Associates CEO Sigþór Kristinn Skúlason told Vísir that WOW air’s operations are now secure, and its flight schedules are in place. As such, it’s been possible for the company to recall a considerable proportion of the employees it laid off.

Airport Associates provides support service to around 20 airlines at Keflavík, including EasyJet, Wizz air, Delta, Norwegian, and American Airlines. The company is WOW air’s largest service provider.