Port of Helsinki
15.11.2021 10:12:47 //
Juha Peltonen
Eemeli Sarka

Unashamedly in favour of growth

Mayor Juhana Vartiainen says that Helsinki is unashamedly in favour of growth. He thinks that the city’s new strategy will provide a good outlook for developing port operations.

The new strategy’s name – “A Place for Growth” – has multiple meanings. It’s a good match for the Mayor’s personality. The name seeks to highlight the fact that Helsinki is a place that is growing.

“But it also means that we all have room to grow both mentally and intellectually,” says Juhana Vartiainen (NCP).

There is a broad political consensus on Helsinki’s growth strategy.

“We’re not at all ashamed to say that we are in favour of growth, that is, all of the major parties in Helsinki,” says Vartiainen.

When “A Place for Growth” was published in late September, the programme was presented by Vartianen  and all four deputy mayors. In Vartiainen’s opinion, a city should be a place of joy and optimism. A place where people know progress is being made. That brings more prosperity, people and jobs in short, everything that makes a city a great place to be.

“We have a good consensus on this among the city’s political parties, that Helsinki has a great future ahead of it.”

Economic growth is urban growth

Vartiainen points out that urban research has shown how urbanisation is a positive global trend in terms of both prosperity and the climate.

“Urban economics quite clearly indicates that people are more productive when they are close together. Regardless of all the opportunities the digital world offers for remote activities, there’s strong evidence to show that ideas spread better and people are more creative when they interact in person. Therefore, in today’s world, economic growth is urban growth. It’s also easier to create climate-friendly and sustainable solutions in cities,” says Vartiainen.

However, the Mayor says that growth must also be smart. Schools, daycare centres and other services must be good enough to ensure that future Helsinki citizens are active members of society. Growth must also square with the views of both newer and older residents.

“Create the new without destroying the old.”

Helsinki and its port are Finland’s drivers

The Mayor says that the Port of Helsinki plays a key role in the success of both the city and Finland as a whole. In terms of value, about half of all Finnish maritime transport and 80 per cent of all passengers pass through the Port  of Helsinki. These passengers bring estimated annual revenue of about EUR 700 million to the capital city region.

“Helsinki really is the most important driver of the Finnish economy, and the port is part of it. If we consider the port’s role in foreign trade, logistics and security of supply, its total economic impact can be counted in the billions,” says Vartiainen.

He reminds us that Helsinki has always been a maritime city.

“Our functionality relies on frequent ship connections in many ways, and this will not be changing any time soon. In Europe, Helsinki is a remote city in geographical terms and Finland is almost an island economically. Overland transport via Russia and the Baltics is slow and difficult, and the Gulf of Bothnia is a lengthy alternative. Which means that the Port of Helsinki plays a fundamental role in Finland’s success. Here, we’ve been quite successful in combining cargo and passengers on the same ships, which also reduces emissions from maritime transport. And if I recall correctly, Helsinki has been called the largest passenger port in Europe.”

Implementing the port development programme in accordance with the policy decided on by the City Council in February 2021 is one of Helsinki’s strategic goals.

“The City naturally wants to safeguard the port’s ability to operate and ensure that the port company and its partners can place long-term confidence in its vision and commitment. The City’s policies must not change with each new council – there must be continuity,” says Vartiainen.

“Helsinki really is the most important driver of the Finnish economy, and the port is part of it. " says Mayor Juhana Vartiainen

Council sticks to its policy

In its new urban strategy, the City of Helsinki announced that it would continue to implement the decisions that have been made on the location of port operations.

“Despite being somewhat succinct, the policy gives a good outlook for developing both the port and the city. The port will be developed on the premise that Swedish ships will operate out of Katajanokka, while Tallinn traffic will be consolidated on the West Harbour. Once passenger traffic has left the  South Harbour, there will be room to create an amazing urban environment. I think it’s an excellent policy, and all these ideas are very much in sync,” says the Mayor.

Moving the Tallinn ferries away from Katajanokka will reduce the volume of truck traffic passing through the  district. Vartiainen says that this is in line with planned developments for the districts of Kruunuhaka, Merihaka and Sörnäinen.

He also adds that this strategic policy includes the construction of a port tunnel leading to the West Harbour, to deal with the increased traffic there. The strategy does not say anything about plans to turn Länsiväylä into a boulevard, which could prevent the highway from maintaining the required traffic capacity and thereby jeopardise the entire plan for the port’s various harbours.

“There’s clearly a common vision of the future that is in line with current plans for developing the port. And this includes the construction of a tunnel route. I’ve not heard that questioned in these discussions,” says Vartiainen.

He takes it as read that the City does not want the traffic chaos that would ensue by leaving the port tunnel unbuilt. The decision in principle made by the City Council in February also chose a scenario that necessitates the construction of a port tunnel between Länsiväylä and the West Harbour. It would be implemented as the Port of Helsinki’s own investment.

Ships are the Mayor’s old friends

When asked about his personal relationship with ports, the Mayor says that he is particularly familiar with those harbours that handle vessel traffic between Finland and Sweden.

“I spent 13 years of my life working in Sweden, even though I had a family and another home in Finland for much of that time. And that’s why, especially when I was younger and more hard up, I became quite familiar with the Swedish ferries.”

The infrastructure investments made by both the port and its partners involve projects that last for decades. The timeframes will always be longer than, for instance, the electoral period to which the Mayor’s term of office is tied.

“It’s the nature of the sector. Whenever you open a new building or road, the preparations were always begun a dozen or so years ago. Every Mayor gets to enjoy the projects launched by their predecessor. I hope that I’ll be able to start things that will make future Helsinki mayors and residents happy,” says Vartiainen.

That’s why he wants the port to be able to implement policies that were on the table in the previous electoral period with confidence.

“This strategy does not contain any features that would threaten or complicate things for the port, so it can implement the policies that have been discussed to date. I haven’t noticed any conflicting views on this during our strategy negotiations.”

Restructuring to generate resources for service provision

The negotiations were concluded in just under two months, and Vartiainen says there were hardly any controversial issues that were left to be resolved later.

“There were, of course, some things that were not yet sufficiently developed to be included in the strategy. There’s a section in the programme that says, in fairly general terms, that structural reforms and inefficiencies will be tackled in order to generate more resources for service provision.”

The Mayor says that this relates more to the City’s own organisation and commercial enterprises than, for example, to the port company’s operations.

“The current development programme is the one that the port should invest in. When it comes to the City’s core organisation and commercial enterprises, ‘structural reforms and inefficiencies’ may mean outsourcing something that is currently being provided in-house. The strategy will create an incentive for this, as it has been agreed that any savings generated in this way will be allocated to service provision, that is, to education, training, culture and leisure time. It’s a good incentive for us at the Mayor’s office to tackle inefficiencies. That’s the logic here,” says Vartiainen.