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Andrew Mitchell: questions from the floor

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These were questions put to International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell at his meeting with Saints and St Helena watchers in Swindolena, UK, on Saturday 20 May 2012:

Q: Will there be enough money for the airport?

AM: The first duty of international development is to support the overseas territories. We are expecting to save on this. We are investing with the prospect that over the longer term it will save the taxpayer money and that is why I am hearing every month what was happening. We have a contingency, a split of liability with Basil Read, we have the best experts to make sure those problems don’t happen.

So we got to vote conservative next time?

AM: No. The chairman of the St Helena group is a distinguished member of the other half of the coalition. It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Labour Government pushed this to the top of the hill and failed to deliver.

Q: I understand the tourism will be in excess of 30,000 visitors. What would be the counter measures for fresh produce for tourists. There is no fresh milk and limited supplies of fruit and vegetables.

AM: That’s a question you must as the SHG about. We are not Stalinist micromanagers. Those are questions that are easy to resolve.

Q: There’s about 32 properties currently vacant for tourists. I understand a hotel is going to be built. Are there any others going to be built that Saints to could manage?

AM: Potential investors will see the opportunities. The investors will make their decisions on that level of demand. That is why we have been clear the government has a policy that attracts investment. That is the answer: the opportunities will be clear. We expect investors to seize those opportunities and they will do so if there is the right regime in place.

Q: You mention the first ship being docked but I understand a few weeks ago the concrete had collapsed into the sea. Has this put the project back? What’s the undertaking that the construction of the airport itself is not going to hae a similiar occurence

JJ: It was some concrete that hadn’t been set and there was more wave action than we thought so we lost it which was unfortunate but we were ahead of schedule. It was a minor setback, something we don’t like, but the rest of the work I don’t see any problems with. Construction is a risk business. We spent a lot of time looking at specific risks and now and again you’re caught out.

Q: Given the island will require a permanent jetty for the long term future, how come a temporary jetty was started.

AM: I’m going to comment and then invite Mr (Nigel) Kirby. I think I’m right in saying the decision is made not to build the jetty

NK: Te permanent wharf will take years to build. The temporary wharf will be incorporated into what we hope will be a permanent wharf. But that is a longer term project. If we were to wait for that it owuld put the airport project back two or three years. The intention is to provide a wharf in Ruperts where ships can come alongside to be unloaded by crane.

AM And that would contain the historic nature of the jetty in Jamestown.

Q: Why are you not taking a more eco friendly airport. The endemics could suffer more, the wirebird is on its last legs.

AM I’m aware of the issue of the wirebird and the giant earwig and I’m absolute;ly satisfied the correct measures are being taken but in the end we must not allow an imbalanced approach to thwart the huge opportunity for the rest of the island. I would be very easy in a time of economic constraint to say not invest. It’s right to have these surveys to protect the environment.

Q: Shelco have been given this fantastic opportunjity to build a hotel on what seems to me to be good agricultural land as far as possible from the main tourist attraction – Napoleon – why aren’t they building it at Longwood, in an age when good agricultural land is disappearing.

AM: I’m going to give you a bit of an answer. It is a question you must put to SHG.

Q: But SHG must refer back to you.

AM: We don’t micromanage. The site is much more about protecting the view. It is the right place to build a high value hotel which will attract in the tourists.

Nigel Kirby: Only a very small part of that land will be developed, much of it will still be used for agriculture. The best thing is to put that to Shelco themselves.

AM: And if you don’t get a satisfactory response you can copy us.

Q: Saints working overseas have sent £5milllion a year in remittance, why is the focus on overseas investors? (Mr Mitchell said he knew of this and it was important)

Q: People have invested in their homes. (Mr Mitchell said that was true in the UK)

Q: Is there a social impact assessment on the Shelco plans? (Nigel Kirby: There has to be?)

Q: Why did SHG in land reform put forward to rezone about 70 homes from the heartland. This was reversed but why should it be the intention to restrict people building homes on their own properties.

AM: It sounds as if the system worked.

Q: Where are the planes going to fly from, what size planes, how often.

AM: There are a number of places but the work is proceeding at the moment on the options and the poeple who would charter or own them and that would develop alongside the economic opportunities. That is a question that is too early to answer in detail.

Q: Will Ascension be linked?

AM: It’s very likely there would be links between the two if there is demand.

Q: Is there going to be a budget for letting Saints return home to work or have we got to find our own way back?

Jimmy J: We are looking at if someone came from here what would be pay and how we would be compensated? We pay for it, it gets deducted over a period. It’s only fair because we will be looking in the global market.

Q: I have been in contact with BR about it and not even had a reply. I’m very disappointed. I would have thought that would have been one of their main things up front.

Q: The ship?

AM: We will not fund another passenger ship. It’s up to SHG what to do about cargo.

Q  I want to know if there is aplan B if tourists don’t show up.

AM: I believe this is incredibly attractive and 30,000 may be an underestimate.

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