The future direction of St Helena (the remote British territory in the South Atlantic) has hit a snag.
Famously, the island could only be reached by a 5-day voyage on the RMS St Helena from Cape Town.
But in 2010 the UK Government committed overseas aid to build a new airport on the island, which opened in May 2016. The project cost was over £285m.
However, no-one foresaw the problem of “wind shear” – a sudden and powerful change in wind direction – which has meant that commercial planes have been banned from using the new airport on safety grounds, in case the wind flips them over.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has described it as “staggering” that the International Development Department didn’t foresee and address the “fundamental issue” of difficult wind conditions, and was overly reliant on assertions and assurances from contractors. At present, the extent or cost of remedial action has still to be identified.
One of the conditions of the original funding was that St Helena should also implement reforms to encourage investment and tourism. Part of that strategy involved revamping their Environmental Protection legislation, given the unique biodiversity of the island, by improving waste management, pollution prevention, and the controls on hazardous substances and invasive species.
Whilst that drafting task has been implemented, the Public Accounts Committee also notes that the DfID has “unquestionably failed” the residents of St Helena (who are now demanding compensation), given the doubts about levels of potential tourist growth and inward investment, and thereby hindered the process of St Helena becoming financially self-sufficient.