Four out of five Policy & Resources members say they are unlikely to support an extension to Guernsey’s runway should such a proposal come forward, citing the post-covid impact on air travel and soaring construction costs generally.
It comes amid a backdrop of no agreed long-term funding mechanism for the public purse, building inflation of 30%, and an atmosphere of caution over approving spending of huge sums on public projects.
Only Deputy David Mahoney did not provide a view, as he was not in attendance at a Scrutiny hearing grilling of senior Committee members on Tuesday.
Scrutiny President, Deputy Yvonne Burford suggested a “speculative” cost for the project of between £60 and £100m, as she asked P&R members their individual views on whether it should proceed.
Pictured: The Scrutiny Management Committee spent much of their hearing questioning senior politicians over major building projects.
“Are there any circumstances under which P&R would lend their support to such a project,” she asked.
Deputy Peter Ferbrache, President of P&R, said that presentations by senior management of Aurigny, where questions were also posed to them, had allayed his fears that the island “could be priced out of Gatwick in six, eight, ten years’ time".
“The very clear advice that he gave to me and others who were at that presentation was that that’s very unlikely, because the aircraft we currently use - the ATRs - are environmentally friendly and obviously that’s a big thing for air travel going forward.
“I couldn’t see an economic case for the benefit of Guernsey,” Deputy Ferbrache added, although he said if someone was able to complete the project for a significantly reduced sum that could change his assessment.
P&R Vice-President and treasury lead, Deputy Mark Helyar said in the “current economic environment” he struggles to see how the States “could support that kind of expenditure”.
Deputy Bob Murray questioned whether such a project “would ever be feasible” given the changing trends in air travel after the pandemic and given assurances from Aurigny’s CEO that Gatwick would be unlikely to “turn down any business” going forward.
When asked if he would support an extension, Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq simply said “no”.
Pictured: Fears that Gatwick would refuse smaller aircraft have underpinned some arguments behind the need to extend the local runway.
All major States building projects currently in the pipeline, and their projected costs, will be put before deputies in a mammoth July debate.
The review of the capital projects portfolio formed part of the pathway agreed by the States after the stalemate tax debate.
It had been expected that the Committee for Economic Development would bring a policy letter on the runway for debate in May. Express asked the Committee if this was still the case, and if the wider capital projects debate could affect the sequence of events.
In response, Deputy Neil Inder, President of Economic Development, said: "I previously wrote to States members informing them that they would be kept updated on the progress of the Policy Letter. Our Committee meets on Thursday to discuss the progress of the work and I will write to members again on Friday".
Some members of the Committee are understood to be neutral on the future on the runway, while it’s tourism-lead, Deputy Simon Vermeulen, has argued passionately for an extension.
He told the States in December that the policy letter would put forward a “compelling” case and would change perceptions about the benefits of extending the tarmac.
Around £280,000 has been spent on runway investigations this political term.
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