St Helena

– in the House of Lords at 2:49 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green 2:49, 27 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the interview given by the Department for International Development programme manager about the proposed airport for St Helena, reported in the St Helena Catalogue, gives a satisfactory account of their plans; and when they will set out their position on the protection of endemic species and the provision of facilities for tourists.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, a project memorandum, which provides more information about these and other issues, has been placed on the DfID website and in the House of Lords Library. It offers a better account than the report of the interview referred to in the Question, which contained a number of omissions and misunderstandings.

Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green

My Lords, I am indeed grateful to the Government for that Answer and for the actions they have taken, at long last, to try and restore some life to the rather dwindling population of St Helena. However, it is important that we are able to follow the progress in solving the many problems, two of which were mentioned in the original Question. I am delighted to know that there is a better answer in the House of Lords Library. Will the Government be able to continue to keep us informed so that we can see how they are solving the very difficult problems which they have to confront?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Whitley, that a full independent environmental impact assessment will be conducted before there is any invitation for the design, build and operate contract. Action to mitigate any negative impacts will be set out in an environmental management plan, which will be legally binding on the contractor. I know that the noble Lord is particularly concerned about the endemic species involved.

Longer term protection could be afforded by the establishment of a protected area around the site under existing legislation in St Helena. With respect to tourism, we will also be looking at the St Helena Government's tourism strategy.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. Is she aware that to reach St Helena takes two days from Ascension Island, three and a half from Namibia, 14 from the UK and seven from Cape Town? It is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. There are at least 20 endemic invertebrate species in the plain where the airport is scheduled to be built that exist nowhere else on the planet. Following her Answer, will she tell us what steps will be taken to relocate the endemic species on St Helena to avoid their extinction during the construction of the airport?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I understand that there will be no need to move the endemic species. There will be a full environmental impact study out of which will come an environmental management plan which the contractors will have to take on board. There may be an impact on about 15 per cent of the area, but it is anticipated that once the environmental impact assessment is done, there will actually be longer term benefits for a wider area which the contractor will have to take on board because it will be part of the contract.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, what effect will the expected airport and therefore the expected removal of RMS "St Helena" from the area have on other islands in that area, especially Tristan da Cunha?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, RMS "St Helena" calls at Tristan de Cunha only once a year, so the other routes will remain as they are. With respect to Ascension Island, which is likely to be more of an issue, once the contract for St Helena airport is let and there are negotiations with a service provider, we anticipate that there will be charter flights between St Helena and Ascension, but those have yet to be negotiated.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, will the Leader of the House tell us when it is hoped that the airport will open and what services will operate to and from St Helena when it is open?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, we are working to a timescale of 2010, although for a project such as this it would be a brave person who would say that the airport would definitely be open by then. However, we are working to that date. There will be negotiations with a service provider; it is anticipated that the services will be between St Helena and somewhere in southern Africa. The number of flights a week will also be part of that negotiation.

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, is it sensible that that very isolated island and the adjacent islands will have contact with the outside world only via aircraft? Is it sensible as well for there not to be any form of shipping service for freight?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, there will be a continuing shipping service for freight on a commercial basis. At the moment the part of the service on RMS "St Helena" which needs to be subsidised is the passenger service, so I do not in any way anticipate that the commercial freight element will not continue.