A troubled £300 million airport on a remote South Atlantic island, paid for by British taxpayers, will this week receive its first jet laden with passengers – a year behind schedule.
But far from heralding the start of a regular service, the long-awaited arrival on St Helena is an emergency relief flight. The ship that has long been the only way of reaching the windswept British overseas territory is out of service with a broken propeller.
The month-long breakdown has left at least 75 frustrated people waiting to travel in Cape Town, around 2,000 miles away to the south-east. Many more have been stranded on St Helena, waiting to travel or receive vital supplies.
As a result, the island’s government has had to pay for this week’s charter flight, set to have about 50 people on board.
Labour’s Lord Foulkes told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It’s a growing debacle. The islanders must feel isolated and abandoned by the UK Government.’
The latest development will heap fresh embarrassment on Britain’s controversial Department for International Development (DFID), which spent £285.5 million on St Helena’s airport without addressing the well-known problem of strong winds over the runway. In a scathing report last year, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that DFID had ‘unquestionably failed the residents of St Helena and the British taxpayer’. The island’s chief secretary, Roy Burke, said: ‘I appreciate this has been a frustrating time for many people but we can now put in place the necessary arrangements to bring those people stranded in Cape Town to St Helena.’
A DFID spokesman said: ‘Concrete actions have been taken to get the airport up and running. We are already seeing the results – 32 flights have successfully landed so far and a tender for air services has been launched.
‘We will identify failures to ensure they are held to account, redressed and not repeated.’