Monday, March 21, 2005


The airport - good plan or bad?

I arrived this morning to an unusually large crop of email messages, and found that most of them are from people discussing the relative merits of St. Helena having an airport. Few seemed to be in favour, claiming – inter alia - that it will ‘destroy the uniqueness of the island’.

Let me update everyone with a few local realities:

If you don't beleive me, find a copy of a film called "Water" (Hand Made Films, 1985, starring Michael Caine and Billy Connolly) for a humorous but vivid interpretation of an island in St. Helena's situation (any character similarities to anyone here, past or present, is nothing to do with me!).

I agree there are risks to having an airport. Any change has risks. The important thing to consider (and I speak as an experienced change manager) is that not changing also has risks.

The island's economic future is dependent, at least in the medium term, on tourism. As many of you who have attempted to visit will testify, that requires an international airport. It has taken the UK Government many years to come to that conclusion, with just about every other solution having been tried and having failed. DfID have now committed to spending a large sum of money on the airport (no figures have been released but estimates run in the £60-100m range) because, they have concluded, it is the only way forward for the island. Judging by what has been said here since last Monday, the island, on the whole, agrees.

To address two specific dangers that people have raised (both of which, you will be pleased to hear, have already been considered extensively when making the decision):

St. Helena is not an ecological experiment, it's a living place. It will change, airport or not. With the airport that change can be positive - without it, the evidence shows, it will be negative.

The 'word on the streets' in St. Helena is that we need an airport, and the problems it will bring are manageable whereas the ones caused by its absence are not.

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