Small Town Networks Conference
Sweden, October 2003
Sweden's presentation to the Conference was of particular interest to the Scottish delegation, Sweden having three municipalities, centred on Vilhelmina working together to obtain a share of the increased economic activity in the area, especially tourism. Transport links, sometimes precarious, have to be maintained. The city, Umea, the equivalent of Inverness, is growing and prosperous with two universities and 25,000 students. It was noticeable how distant towns are from each other and how sparsely populated the countryside is. Each town has to be self-contained to a large extent.
For Scotland the presentation covered the further development of Inverness as an Educational, Cultural and Business Centre, and the development of the small town networks, attracting people out from Inverness to live, to shop, and to spend leisure time.
During the Conference Stewart talked to Anders Lundgren, a regional Development officer, who lives in Lycksele, between Vilhelmina and Umea. He has already met representatives of the Alness Community and is interested at looking at the twinning of Lycksele and Alness, similarly sized communities. Stewart had gone to Sweden with an open mind, because of the transport difficulties and cost but there are new developments which make things look much more promising and he decided to visit Lycksele.
Lycksele is a town of 12,000 people, 1 hours drive from the city of Umea, which has 100,000 people and is situated on the Baltic Sea, in the same latitude as the Faroe Islands. Winters are dry and cold and summers fairly dry and warm. Lycksele is situated on the Umealven River and E12 Euroroute between Norway and Finland, subject of the 'Via Baltica Nordica Development Zone'. Lycksele is the Capital of Swedish Lapland and is set in an area of forests, rich in minerals. It has excellent facilities and an air of confidence.
There are good local bus services, to Umea, and Storuman and Vilhelmina, both on the Inlandsbanan, now run as a tourist railway in the summer only. The railway from Umea to Storuman through Lycksele is freight only, but there is a plan to reintroduce passenger trains between Lycksele and Umea and even to extend the line westwards to Moi Rana in Norway. The late Frank Spaven, 'saviour' of the N Highland lines, studied the N Swedish lines in detail and would have been fascinated to learn of this, and the building of the Botniabanan High Speed line from Stockholm to Umea, due to open in 2008 and reducing travel time from 12 hours to 5.
Lycksele has a small airport, 5 kilometres from the centre, with two flights a day, taking 80 minutes to Stockholm. These are under threat if not used more. From the point of view of exchanges with Alness, the really important news is the announcement that Snowflake Airways plan to introduce twice weekly flights between Stockholm and Inverness on March 29th 2004, starting at £45 single.
There are fascinating comparisons between N Sweden and the Highlands, first brought to my attention many years ago by Frank Spaven in a lecture he gave in Inverness to the Scottish Association for Public Transport.