It has emerged that the tallest part of the embattled, currently closed, silicon factory at Helguvík was built without permission.
The building, which is half the height of Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík, was added on to the United Silicon site after the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report had been released. The national planning agency was not informed of the addition to the site and is now asking Reykjanesbær municipality for an explanation.
It appears that all the news surrounding high levels of pollution, the bad smell, and subsequent fire at the site are the reason the planning agency has now finally noticed that there is more wrong with the new plant than just the smell.
As far back as January, the planning authority wrote to Reykjanesbær noting that the buildings being erected on the United Silicon site did not appear to be the same as the ones granted planning permission. The authority noted that any changes to the plan need to be approved and justified, and requested an explanation from the municipality.
That explanation was then received by the planning authority on April 5, and said that the new local plan had been approved two-and-a-half years after the EIA and involved changes United Silicon had requested to make to the buildings—notably increasing the height of buildings in the upper area, which significantly increased the plant’s visual impact.
The biggest change, though, was that a whole building—the packing station—was added into the plan without having been on the EIA report at all.
The packing station is around 38 meters (125 ft.) tall. For comparison, Hallgrímskirkja, which is in the middle of an urban area, is 74 meters tall. The Helguvík silicon plant can be seen from far away.
The packing station is the tallest building on the site and is situated on the highest ground; whereas the initial application from United Silicon stated that all the tallest structures would be located on the lowest ground and that the whole complex would barely be visible from Keflavík town.
The municipality’s reply to the planning authority was that the changes made to the plan were not of a nature requiring separate approval and that the council was entitled to approve them. Unnamed independent experts told RÚV this is absolute nonsense, and the planning authority does not consider its questions to have been answered.
Reykjanesbær buildings inspector Einar Júlíusson, who signed the letter to the planning authority, says it is interesting to note that the planning authority signed off on the new local plan and did not query the changes at the time. Neither he nor the mayor would be interviewed on the matter.