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St. Helena air access

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  • Bob Conrich
    Islanders happy to stay cut off By Simon Pipe BBC News 20 January 2009 When - in December - the British government put on hold plans to build an airport on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 20, 2009
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      Islanders 'happy to stay cut off'
      By Simon Pipe
      BBC News
      20 January 2009


      When - in December - the British government put on hold plans to build
      an airport on the island of St Helena, local councillors spoke of
      their "bitter disappointment".

      But now a number of islanders say they want to stay cut off from the
      rest of the world.

      The £200m airport project would have changed forever one of the most
      isolated places on the planet.

      A speck in the South Atlantic, St Helena is 1,200 miles from the
      African coast and more than twice as far again from South America.

      The delay to the airport leaves uncertainty over how the island will
      be supplied with food and other needs from 2010 when its supply ship
      is due reach the end of its working life.

      But an informal poll conducted by the St Helena Independent, one of
      two newspapers serving the 4,000 people on the island, has found that
      some people are against belatedly joining the jet age.

      Many islanders have been worried that the airport would change their
      slow pace of life.

      There have also been doubts about whether it could really give the
      island a viable economy for the first time in 350 years of British rule.

      Nineteen per cent of the Independent's 1,900 readers voted in the poll
      and 58% said an airport was not needed. Another 1.4% said they did not
      care.

      The unexpected and overwhelming change in the world economy has
      created a different background to the decision
      Andrew Gurr
      Governor of St Helena

      Readers were also asked whether they personally wanted an airport.
      Just over a third said they did, against 63% who did not.

      An internet poll showed more people in favour, although it was thought
      to include islanders living in the UK - many of whom are based in
      Swindon, Wiltshire.

      Epic journey

      A petition on the Downing Street website says an airport is vital to
      St Helena's future. It calls on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to revive
      negotiations over it.

      By 19 January, it had been signed by more than 260 people, although
      many appeared not to be islanders.

      The governor of St Helena, Andrew Gurr, has travelled to London to
      press the case - a journey that typically involves making a two-day
      sea voyage to Ascension Island and then catching a twice-weekly RAF
      flight.

      Tourist journeys via Cape Town take even longer.

      In a letter to islanders, Mr Gurr wrote: "The decision on the airport
      hangs very much in the balance.

      "The unexpected and overwhelming change in the world economy has
      created a different background to the decision."

      But in a letter to the St Helena Herald newspaper, British-born
      islander Bobby Robertson said: "No economist who has ever come to this
      island will state that the airport will guarantee prosperity.

      Few people seem bothered. Some are even relieved
      Bobby Robertson
      British-born islander

      "The best I got from an economist was a 50-50 chance of success.

      "No-one on this island was going to give a penny towards the cost. All
      costs were going to be met by the British taxpayer.

      "I have been asking people how they feel about the postponement and
      few people seem bothered. Some are even relieved."

      Ship strife

      St Helena was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. It came under
      British control in 1659.

      It has been dependent on British subsidies ever since - initially in
      the form of rice. The last time it enjoyed an economic boom was during
      the Boer War, when several thousand South African prisoners were
      encamped on the island.

      The islanders have frequent reminders of the unpredictability of sea
      travel.

      The RMS St Helena - the world's last Royal Mail ship - is expected to
      be at sea for an extra two days on its current voyage to Cape Town,
      because one of its engines failed.

      In 1999, BBC News reported islanders' calls for an airport after the
      ship broke down completely and began drifting in the Bay of Biscay,
      leading to panic buying in the island's shops as supplies ran out.

      Similar problems have forced Governor Gurr to abandon a trip to the
      even more isolated island of Tristan da Cunha, a dependency of St Helena.

      He was to have sailed there from the Falkland Islands aboard HMS
      Endurance, but an engine room flood means the ship is now being towed
      back to Portsmouth.



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