For sale: Small Danish islands

Researcher recommends closing down and perhaps selling some small islands that are draining council coffers

The number of people living on Denmark's numerous small islands has been dropping for years, while the expenses of providing services to those who choose to remain have been rising. Every resident of the tiny island Egholm in the Limfjord near Aalborg costs the Aalborg Council over 143,000 kroner annually. Island dwellers on Barsø in the Lillebælt north of Aabenraa carry a 120,000 kroner price tag each.

A researcher in local planning from Aalborg University said it may be time to close some of the islands down.

“My professional judgement is that we might as well close some of the islands as they have no future,” Jørgen Møller told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper. “Instead, we can use the funds to enhance life on the islands we really want to focus on.”

There are 27 small, inhabited islands in Denmark; they are not independent municipalities and each has less than 1,200 residents. Over the past ten years, the number of people living on them has dropped and there are now only 4,605 people scattered across all 27.  The state sends 15 million kroner each year to councils that have inhabited small islands within their jurisdiction. That adds up to 106 million kroner to cover some, but not all, of the burden the councils bare to support the islands.

An economic reality check
Møller said it just makes economic sense to close some of the smallest islands to permanent habitation.

"I'm not talking about taking homes without compensation or displacement,” he said. “I am talking about the councils going in and buying homes and giving residents an offer they cannot refuse.”

Dorthe Winther, the head of Sammenslutningen af Danske Småøer, the national association of small islands, said that the value of the islands cannot be judged monetarily.

“There is a reason why some people choose to stay on the islands or perhaps spend their holidays there,” Winther told Kristeligt Dagblad. “Life on the islands offers something unique that is worth preserving, maybe not from an economic point of view, but socially and culturally.”

Some have suggested putting the islands on the market as real estate, but at least one mayor said that idea would not fly.

“From a strictly economic standpoint, there is no-one that would buy an island to try to turn a profit,” Martin Damm (V), the mayor of Kalundborg Council, which includes the small island of Nekselø, told Kristeligt Dagblad. Damm believes, however, that island life should be preserved for the diversity and atmosphere it brings to an area.

In contrast, Faaborg-Midtfyn mayor Hans Jørgensen (S) can understand why some of the smaller islands may have to be closed if residents keep moving away.

“We have to be realistic,” he told Kristeligt Dagblad. “You can have an idyllic dream about island living, but you cannot force people to stay, and you could ultimately wind up spending a lot of resources for no good reason.”

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