England's St Helena exiles welcome island airport project

St Helena
Image caption Around 7,000 families in the south of England are descendants from St Helena

Building an airport on an island in the Atlantic is set to change the lives of hundreds of people in south England.

St Helena, a British Territory in the south Atlantic, will finally get its first fully-operational airport by 2015, following years of negotiations.

The project will be funded by the Department for International Development, but at a cost of £300m to the UK taxpayer.

For 7,000 families living in the south, a return home is now closer than ever.

Student April Lawrence, who moved from the island to Portsmouth in 2010 with her partner Julian Constantine, plans to return home after finishing her degree at the city university.

Week-long trip

The sociology and psychology undergraduate said: "Currently, it takes five days to sail by RMS St Helena to Cape Town and then you need to fly to Johannesburg before boarding another plane to Heathrow.

"In all, it takes a week to get to the UK. Once the airport's up and running, that'll be reduced to just two days."

April has a number of relatives living in the UK in Swindon, Reading and Oxford, who also made the move over from St Helena in search of education and employment.

"It's absolutely great news after years of waiting," she continued.

"But, I think when I actually start seeing pictures of them building the airport, that's when I will start getting excited."

The airport will be built in Prosperous Bay, on the east of the island, and contractors are already on site building a temporary pontoon.

Mark Lancaster MP, parliamentary secretary to Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, visited the island himself in 2009 and stressed the long-term benefits.

'Economic sense'

He said: "It will make a tremendous difference to the lives of islanders.

"It makes sound economic sense to the UK taxpayer as currently we donate around £24m a year just in life support and keeping the island going.

Image caption Kedell Worboys: "An airport's the vehicle for economic development"

"By investing in an airport, it will make the island much more self-sufficient and economic development can take place there."

Completing the airport in 2015 would coincide with the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's incarceration on the island.

The government also expects an airport to open up the tourism industry and see an estimated 30,000 people a year visit St Helena.

Kedell Worboys, the St Helena government's UK representative, defended the investment in the island's infrastructure.

She said: "We're British citizens first and foremost, who have a huge stake in the UK community with active associations in areas like Hampshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire.

"As a British territory, the UK government has an obligation to ensure islanders have a reasonable quality of life and access.

"It's not the airport itself that's important, but the vehicle to stimulate access.

"If the decision isn't taken now, the government won't get the same level of return on their investment in the future."

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