MPs have demanded ministers reveal who was responsible for the ‘staggering’ decision to build a £285m airport on an Atlantic island that cannot be used by commercial aircraft.
In a scathing report, the Commons Public Accounts Committee has accused the Department for International Development (DfID) of being ‘evasive’ as to who should be held responsible for the decision, failing to take into account the impact of ‘wind shear’, which produces dangerous conditions on the airport approach.
Test flights in April found dangerous conditions on the airport approach
The committee says it is ‘staggering’ that the DfID did not foresee problems that prevent commercial services using the £285.5m taxpayer-funded facility on St Helena, a UK overseas territory and even point out that wind shear is not just a well-known concept in airport construction, it was observed on the island in 1836 by Charles Darwin.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said: ‘The Government has an obligation to support St Helena but a £285m white elephant serves neither its people nor the taxpayers footing the bill. The failure to undertake robust due diligence on this project is truly appalling. I also have serious concerns about the airport’s business case, which was marginal at best.
'The result is a disaster: a commercial airport that is not fit for purpose, no credible plan to salvage value for money, and no clarity on exactly who is responsible for the whole sorry mess.’
The committee called on DfID to submit a copy of its own review of the project, as soon as it is completed, identifying who was accountable on the issue of wind shear.
A DFID spokesperson said: ‘18 flights have successfully landed so far - including three vital medevac flights. More flights are due next week. To uphold our duty to the island an extension of the Royal Mail Ship service will provide guaranteed access in the meantime.
‘The secretary of state is clear: we will deliver on what we promised for the island and we will identify failures to ensure they are held to account, redressed and not repeated.’