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Is Venice really banning cruise ships this time?

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Not for the first time this year, the Italian government on Tuesday announced that it had signed a decree banning cruise ships from docking in the centre of Venice.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

But there was widespread scepticism about whether anything would actually change. After all, cruise ships continue to arrive in the lagoon even though ministers made a similar announcement in March 

And before that, it was widely reported in 2019 that Venice had “banned” cruise ships, when it had not. At that stage, the idea was only being discussed.

This time though, it looks like the giant ships really will no longer be allowed to sail past St Mark’s Square. The government has set a date for the ban: August 1st.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the government had decided to act now “to avoid the real risk of the city’s inclusion on the [Unesco] endangered world heritage list”.

A protest against cruise ships at St Marks’ Square, Venice, in June 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Campaigners have long warned that the ships cause large waves that undermine Venice’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.

Cruise ships are also widely seen as a major contributor to the city’s issues with overtourism, as the giant floating hotels often disgorge thousands of day trippers at a time who are accused of contributing little to the local economy.

READ ALSO: ‘The myth of Venice’: How the Venetian brand helps the city survive

Unesco’s Director General on Wednesday described the government announcement as “very good news and an important step that significantly contributes to the safeguarding of this unique heritage site.”

But many Venice residents, environmental campaigners and tourism experts warned this week that the move would not be as beneficial as it appeared – and could in fact make existing problems worse in the long term.

“Yes, it is true that from August 1st cruise ships will no longer pass in front of Saint Mark’s,” states Venezia Autentica, a group promoting sustainable tourism businesses in Venice.

“However, cruise ships will still enter the Venetian lagoon through the “back door”, hidden from plain sight,” it says. 

“They will reach Venice through an existing channel that will be further enlarged to accommodate those ships and will have devastating repercussions on the local environment.”

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon

Map: Venice Port Authority

Jane Da Mosto, founder and executive director of local conservation group We Are Here Venice, tells The Local she’s “glad that the nightmare of cruise ships in the heart of the city is ending”, but “very concerned about the damage to the lagoon caused by erosion associated with additional traffic to Marghera.”

“Cruise ships are generally larger than mercantile traffic. The health of the whole lagoon system is integral to the survival of Venice,” she adds.

And experts point out that simply moving the ships to a different Venice port won’t necessarily do anything to reduce overcrowding during peak tourist season.

READ ALSO: ‘New model’: How Florence and Venice plan to rebuild tourism after the coronavirus crisis

“Banning cruise ships from the lagoon doesn’t automatically mean fewer tourists. It could even lead to more tourists,” says Hans Schrama, blogger at Avoid-Crowds.com.

“If ships are able to dock in Marghera in the future, that location could attract larger ships that weren’t able to enter the lagoon previously,” Schrama adds.

“Marghera could potentially even attract the world’s largest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, which hasn’t been in Venice before.”

“It all depends on how big Marghera will get.“

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Rerouting the ships to the mainland port is only meant as a temporary solution, with ministers saying they are now looking for a site for a new permanent terminal outside of the lagoon.

But Schrama warns: “By relocating the cruise terminal outside of the lagoon, authorities might open Venice up for even bigger numbers of passengers. When even bigger and potentially more ships are just outside of the lagoon, the local environment will still be impacted.” 

And moving the main cruise terminal would mean ferrying passengers to and from the islands using smaller vessels.

“Will all that traffic still be better for the environment?” asks Schrama.

For many residents and campaigners, simply moving the cruise ships isn’t enough to protect the environment and safeguard the city’s future.

“We’re disappointed that the government didn’t take a more systemic approach,” says Da Mosto.

Authorities should “invest instead in the known opportunities for new types of shipping and port activities,” she says, “rather than planning to make space for large cruise ships that should be obsolete anyway due to the associated pollution and climate consequences.”



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How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

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With the arguable exception of second city Aarhus, Copenhagen is significantly more expensive to rent housing than anywhere else in Denmark.

But the extra cost in the capital depends on where else in Denmark you compare with, as well as the type of housing you rent.

Private or general housing?

First, it is important to note the difference between the two main types of rental housing in Denmark: private rentals and almene boliger (literally, ‘general housing’), a form of subsidised housing.

For almene boliger, local municipalities put up 10 percent of building costs and in return have the right to decide who is allocated one in four available apartments, enabling them to provide housing to municipal residents who need it. The housing therefore plays a role in the social housing provision.

This type of housing is normally managed by a boligforening or housing association. Rent goes towards costs of running the housing and to pay off the housing association’s loans, which means property owners aren’t profiting from rents and prices are controlled.

Aside from housing assigned by the municipality, almene boliger are open for anyone. However, to get one, you must get to the top of a waiting list, which you join by signing up with associations which operate housing in the city where you live (or want to live).

In Copenhagen or Aarhus, it can take years to get to the top of these lists, while in smaller cities you might get an offer in weeks or even days.

As such, many newcomers to Denmark must turn to the private rental market if they are living in one of the main cities.

READ ALSO: Deposits, complaints and registration: Five key things to know about renting in Denmark

Private housing: Copenhagen clearly pricier 

A study conducted by housing research centre Bolius in November 2020 found the cost of a 56 square-metre apartment in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district to be 8,536 kroner per month.

The study, which was based on data from 2019 and 2020 from rental platforms boliga.dk and boligportal.dk, shows the average monthly cost of non-limited private apartments on Nørrebro, compared with 16 other locations in Denmark.

The cost takes into account the cost of a deposit (normally three months’ rent) and adds it to the average cost of renting the housing for five years (thereby assuming none of the deposit is returned to the tenant).

In comparison to the price in Nørrebro, the study found rent in Hillerød north of Copenhagen to be slightly less (8,218 kroner) for a slightly larger apartment (65 square metres).

Moving further out from Copenhagen, costs begin to drop even more.

In Kalundborg on the west coast of Zealand, you can rent a 71-square-metre flat for 5,167 kroner per month. Næstved, a commuter town between Copenhagen and the Great Belt Bridge, comes in at 6,039 kroner for an apartment at 72 square metres.

The cheaper rents are consistent further to the west, exemplified in Jutland cities Aalborg (5,544 kroner for 62 square metres), Vejle (6.696 kroner for 84 square metres) and Esbjerg (4,399 kroner for 54 square metres).

Although Aarhus is not included in the study, third-largest city Odense is. Here, there is still a significant saving on Copenhagen, with 8,488 kroner, a similar rent to that in Nørrebro, getting you an apartment over 50 percent bigger at 82 square metres.

General (almene) housing: closer, but still higher in Greater Copenhagen

Rent prices for almene or subsidised housing were most recently analysed in a 2020 report by Landsbyggefonden (National Building Foundation), a support institution for the social housing sector.

According to that report, the rent for family housing (meaning housing not reserved for students or seniors) is “on average, approximately 100-200 kroner per square metre higher [per year, ed.] east of the Great Belt Bridge than west of it”.

Of the five administrative regions, average rent for family subsidised housing is highest in Greater Copenhagen at 906 kroner per square metre for a year’s rent.

The lowest rents can be found in South Denmark, where the yearly cost is 722 kroner per square metre.

Zealand is the region that comes closest to Copenhagen on the costs for this type of regular housing. Here, tenants can expect to pay 859 kroner per square metre in a year. The equivalent costs in Central Jutland and North Jutland and 778 kroner and 747 kroner respectively.

The study also places Greater Copenhagen as the most expensive region when rents are presented as the median monthly rent for family housing.

Here, the median values are split into five categories based on apartment size, with Copenhagen coming out as the most expensive region for each category.

For example, the median monthly rents for apartments between 50-60 square metres are as follows: 5,039 kroner (Greater Copenhagen); 4,913 kroner (Zealand); 4,541 kroner (Central Jutland); 4,388 kroner (North Jutland); 4,236 kroner (South Denmark). The national average is 4,667 kroner.

Sources: Domea, Bolius, Landsbyggefonden



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Officials pushed for State to buy direct provision centres from private firms

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The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.

The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.

The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.

The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.

“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.

The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.

The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.

“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.

The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.

‘Badly needed’

Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.

“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.

“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”

The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.

Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.

New centres

A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.

Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.

“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.


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IN PICTURES: French daredevil takes hair-raising Seine tightrope walk

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Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.

He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.

Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.

He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.

Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.

He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.

He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.



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