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Ascension : Update on Airport Consultation from Ascension
Submitted by The Islander (Public Relations Information Office) 09.08.2009 (Article Archived on 23.08.2009)

On Monday 27th July, the St Helena Herald contacted Sharon Wainwright on Ascension to find out the latest on the airport consultation and the cancellation of their visit to the Falklands. Below are Sharon's comments:

Update on Airport Consultation from Ascension


On Monday 27th July, the St Helena Herald contacted Sharon Wainwright on Ascension to find out the latest on the airport consultation and the cancellation of their visit to the Falklands. Below are Sharon's comments:


'Rosemary Stevenson arrived on Ascension on the morning of Thursday, 23rd July and she and I spent the whole of Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday going out to see as many Saints as possible. On Thursday and Friday we held numerous meetings around the Island with all of the main service provider employees, such as Interserve, Sodexho, Serco, CSR, AIG and the Obsidian. In all, 206 attended the meetings, which we were extremely pleased with and we spoke with a further 40 people during our drop-in calls to all of the main social venues around the island on Saturday and Sunday. These high numbers over such a short period confirms that Saints here really are interested in St Helena's future and felt strongly enough to come out and have a say.


The strong majority of the people we saw supported Option A, i.e. for the UK Government to make the decision to go head with the airport. They gave very good reasons for their thinking and most of it correlated with the reasons given on St Helena. e.g. air access would provide an opportunity to be reunited with families; people would have quicker access to emergency medical attention (on this comment, a lot of people went into detail about the fact that they were reluctant to come home and bring their families with them because they felt they were putting their children 'at risk' if they couldn't get away quick enough for emergency attention). People also said that the airport would bring development to St Helena with tourism and they felt that if the salaries rise and if job opportunities increased as businesses developed and grew, then they would certainly come home. We always knew that Saints would come home if St Helena offered them a brighter future but it was quite overwhelming to find that the large majority of people we saw, made it clear that they would be home tomorrow if St Helena could recognize and reward their skills and offer them a better future.


There were some concerns mentioned as well with the main one being the link between St Helena and Ascension. It was clear that most people were still thinking that with an airport, they had no choice but to fly half way around the world to get back home. I was able to inform them that this was not necessarily the case and up until the project was put on 'pause' status, we were still working towards establishing an inter-island 'domestic' flight between St Helena and Ascension. If the pause status is lifted and we are able to move the project forward again then I am sure that discussions about the inter-island flights will resume. Another concern was about the loss of a ship for freight. I was able to explain that throughout the planning for an airport, it has always been known that arrangements would need to be made for freight by sea through some unsubsidized, commercial agreement very similar to the previous years when the Southampton and Good Hope Castle lines were used.


The few people who were supportive of Option B - commission a new ship, cited their main reason as not wanting the Island change. Some of them acknowledged that a ship wouldn't help to build the economy on St Helena but at the same time, they said they liked the ship and had a strong emotional attachment to it as they saw it as a part of the island. Others said they wanted a ship simply because they were so fed up with waiting for an airport to come and didn't want to build their hopes up any longer.


There were no supporters for DfID's preferred Option C - defer a decision for up to five years.


Following the consultation on Ascension, Rosemary and I were due to depart for the Falkland Islands on Monday 27th to speak with Saints and others there.  Unfortunately, adverse weather conditions on the Falklands led to the flight and planned visit being cancelled.


We have since made alternative arrangements through the main service providers and others to ensure that there are opportunities for the views of Saints currently working and living on the Falklands to be sent to Rosemary before the consultation closes on Friday, 31st July.


Finally, Rosemary and I would like to pass our sincere thanks to everyone who, despite their frustrations with the process, took the time to participate in the consultation. We would also like to thank the Administrator and his admin team for their support during our time on Ascension, as well as the managers of VT Communications, Interserve Defence, Serco, Sodexho and Naafi on both Ascension and the Falklands for their invaluable help and likewise, the Managers of AIG, CSR and the Obsidian.'.


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