News story

Airport to revitalise British St Helena

The go ahead for an airport on the island of St Helena will be given by International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell - subject to strict pre-conditions – on the basis that it will provide best value for the British taxpayer and meet our obligations to this British Overseas Territory.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The airport will revitalise the British Overseas Territory of St Helena - one of the remotest islands in the world - which is currently accessible via a week long boat journey from South Africa.

The additional short term costs of constructing an airport are outweighed by the long term benefits. This is the right decision for the UK taxpayer. An airport should eliminate the island’s reliance on aid in excess of £20 million from the UK every year. 

The island has been suffering economic and social decline, with more and more young people leaving the island to seek work and the average annual salary dipping to just £4,000. The airport should eventually make the island financially independent, not reliant on funding from the UK Government.

The UK Government believes a new airport is the best way to bring new financial opportunities to the island, not least a boom in tourism. At present just 950 visitors make the trip to St Helena each year by ship. With an airport it is estimated that more than 29,000 tourists will visit each year.

As well as rugged natural beauty, the island boasts historic sites like Napoleon’s tomb and rare wildlife, which will attract visitors.

The UK Government has an obligation to promote the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the Overseas Territories, who are British citizens. St Helena receives funding from the Department for International Development - over £20 million per year.

An airport should make the island self-sustainable, meaning no more funding from the UK will be needed. The other main option, a new ship, does not allow the island to become economically self-sustaining.

Estimates of the final costs for delivering the airport are currently confidential until the procurement process is completed.  Through the use of developing technology, specifically designed to allow a new kind of runway, significant savings are expected. Value for money will be sought at every stage, with payments only made on the completion of agreed phases, which will help spread costs over a number of years.

The International Development Secretary is clear, however, that the airport can only go ahead if the following conditions are met:

  • An acceptable contract price must be achieved
  • The risk of cost and time overruns after the contract has been awarded must be mitigated
  • The airport design using Engineered Material Arresting System (to deliver a shorter runway) must be approved by Air Safety Support International
  • St Helena Government must undertake to implement reforms necessary to open the island’s economy to inward investment and increased tourism

The people of St Helena have twice voted overwhelmingly for an airport - first in a referendum in 2002, then in a consultation in 2009.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

It’s time to stop the years of dithering and give the people of St Helena the decision they have been waiting for since an airport was first promised by the Government in 2003. 

But these are tough times and we need to make sure we get the best deal for the UK taxpayer as well as for the people of St Helena.

I believe an airport for St Helena will revitalise the island and ultimately make them self sufficient - no longer having to rely on UK funding. It will provide opportunities for tourism, business and improved access for this remote, remarkable island, and, in due course, a considerable saving to the UK taxpayer.

We need to start treating the Saints as valued British citizens. We will build a new relationship with all the Overseas Territories, celebrating these unique outposts of Britishness with which we have such strong historic and cultural links.

Updates to this page

Published 22 July 2010