Efforts to reassess planned repairs for Alderney's runway are a "shocking" attempt to further delay the work, according to the northern-most island's senior politician.
Speaking to Express ahead of today's States of Guernsey debate which is expected to include the issue, the Chairman of Alderney's Policy & Finance committee, James Dent, said this new amendment was just asking for what had already been done in the past to be repeated.
Proposed by Deputy Gavin St Pier and backed by Policy & Resources, the amendment has been made to the full business case which has been submitted by STSB to start to "rehabilitate the pavement" of Alderney's runway. That is set for debate in the States today. But if it is successful, the amendment will see a full review of that business case to consider the "overall value for money" of the scheme and also to assess Guernsey's financial obligations to Alderney.
It also offers a cap for expenditure of £12.2m. if the work goes ahead.
In essence, this amendment could see the islands take a fresh look at the 1948 agreement between them, which wrote into law that Guernsey would maintain a runway for Alderney. For the last five years, the island has been saying its runway needs repaving, and a number of consultants have agreed. According to Mr Dent, if this amendment passes, it will just be a case of another consultant agreeing the work is needed, but in another years time:
"I'll be absolutely frank in saying I think its a bit of a wrecking amendment, our runway is finished, it's been given 18 months life, it's operating with special delegation from the Civil Aviation Authority and there are major safety reasons why it shouldn't be in the state it is in," he said.
Alderney's runway is, according to Chairman James Dent, right at the end of its life span.
"We have had five years and five different consultants already. We have been very patient, and have gone along with every new obstacle and we thought we were at the end of the process, in fact we were promised we were at the end of the process.
"Last year, they said, ah, we just need to reexamine one more time and we threw our hands up in horror at another year's delay. And the consultants came and said it was pointless to have hired them, this runway is finished. We have been through that. The only alternative to this amendment is to scrap it and get on with what we were promised right away."
In its executive summary of the amendment, P&R says it will allow the project to proceed as planned, but while also ensuring it will take into consideration a number of financial and holistic factors. It says looking at the 1948 agreement now will help the future relationship between the islands.
And while Mr Dent said they were keen to continue to build a stronger and closer relationship between Alderney and Guernsey, he said now was not the time to review such an old piece of law.
"We just dont have time for it. How long is it going to take to review that agreement?" he asked, "The 1948 agreement is enshrined in the laws of Guernsey and the laws of Alderney. It requires Guernsey to maintain an airport. It's just the law."
Since Bumblebee closed down early last year, there has been no constant ferry service to Alderney, just a temporary one over summer.
One idea that has been aired when it comes to an alternative to air travel for Alderney is an all-year-round ferry. But that is an idea Guernsey's Economic Development Committee looked at last year and deemed unsuitable. Mr Dent agrees with that original assessment, while the amendment itself is critical of how it was so quickly dismissed. Comparisons have been drawn to the ferry operated over the summer, which was considered a success. But Mr Dent said that required a hefty subsidy and would not see similar results in the winter.
On top of the more obvious problems, around 50% of Alderney's travellers go to and from Southhampton directly. This would be a route any ferry could not provide.
"The issue that would arise is getting something that could get in all year round. And then of course the problem is once you have got a ferry that is of a sufficient size to come in all year round, in the winter months you really are not going to have the demand for it to cover even its operating costs.
"So there is a big big problem with the idea. And many of the islanders are used to the luxury of air travel these days."
STSB's key milestones for the project if the work does go ahead.
The business case itself and also the amendment will be debated during this weeks States of Guernsey meeting, starting today. Mr Dent said he hoped the amendment will be defeated so the can would stop being kicked down the road:
"We thought we had done a political deal, and it's a matter of honour almost, how can we trust when it's years later. And we have got to be able to be trust."
Pictured top: James Dent on Alderney Airport.
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