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OPINION: "It ain't over till the fat lady sings"


Tuesday 10 January 2023

OPINION: "It ain't over till the fat lady sings"

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Outspoken critic of 'Option C+' for Alderney's airport, Ralph Burridge has shared his thoughts now the decision has been made to progress the multi-million pound project. He's likened it to "smoke and mirrors" but says only the first round has been won so far.

Mr Burridge, one-time Chief Training Captain of Aurigny, and past Alderney States Member, who also represented Alderney in the Guernsey States has written the below open letter:

“Those, who by the clever use of smoke and mirrors illusions, misinformation and a ‘playground politics’ campaign, managed to convince our politicians to vote for Option C+ in the recent States Alderney airfield to airport debate have certainly won the first round – but there is a long way to go before they can really be declared as the winners.

So, the supporters of Option C+ for the rehabilitation of Alderney airfield, changing it into a fully operational regional airport, have won the opening vote. 

There is a well know saying: "It ain't over till the fat lady sings", an often-used colloquialism which means that one should not presume to know the final outcome of an event which is still in progress. This certainly applies to the Alderney airport development, as there is a long way to go and many decisions to be made, before anyone can put a boot on a spade and lift the first sod and their pipe dreams become a reality – if in fact they ever do! 


Pictured: Members of the public had a walk and talk around the runway last summer as the debate neared.

Those who braved the sound waves to listen to the whole two plus days of the Alderney rehabilitation debate will, or should have been, surprised that the whole discussion process was concerned with the decision to spend £24.5 million on a project that even at that price, they couldn’t afford, but for which there were no current costings available, as to date no attempt to revise the estimates had ever been undertaken. With all due respect to the Deputies, how on earth can anyone make an informed decision to spend that much money, when nobody is in possession of the real costs involved. An amazing piece of financial madness! Add to this the amount of unchallenged mis-information that was fed to the Deputies, proving how much they were relying on their so called ‘experts’ and how little they knew about aviation. Deputy Ferbrache kicked off with his usual quick-fire patter, reminiscent of the old music hall comedian Arthur Askey, but sadly with most of his facts being more akin to Arthur Daley, (writing off zero emission, hydrogen fuelled aircraft, by quoting figures from a long gone completely unrelated battery powered electric motor experimental test programme - shame on you). There then followed ‘smoke and mirrors’ speeches from Deputies Roffey and Parkinson that inevitably led to the exciting bit of the whole debate: the plethora of amendments, that just kept coming. It soon became apparent that most deputies were suffering various levels of confusion, although not as great as that of the listeners, who were trying to keep up, but without the benefit of having any paperwork. 

However, what it not yet a final decision, is that the approval was given based on the original estimate of £24.5 million. A figure which nobody in their right mind believes will be anything like the real cost of the whole completed project, which is likely to be closer to £50 million, or as Deputy St Pier said, “not based on a ‘rough order of magnitude’ estimate that could be underbudgeted by as much as 75%”. 


Pictured: Deputy Yvonne Burford was another opponent of plans to invest many millions in Alderney's airport and runway - she wanted further research carried out first.

Be that right, or be it wrong, the important thing to understand is that the decision to vote the item through was based on the policy letter, in which it says, “If it becomes clear that the cost of the project rises to the point where it no longer represents value for money (which many would argue it doesn’t now anyway), then P&R undertake to bring it back to the States”. 

Deputy Burford spoke to Deputies Helyar and Ferbrache and got them to agree that they would bring it back to the States if it looks likely to exceed 10% more – i.e. £26.5m. 

To ensure that this was as near to a binding commitment as you could get, Deputy Burford included the detail of this agreement in her speech, to ensure that it became a matter of record.

In short, if the final cost of the whole cost of the complete Alderney rehabilitation project exceeds £26.5 million, then it is back to the drawing board. 

The reason that I use the wording complete project is because it is very easy to be selective about which items are listed for inclusion in the costing schedule. So far, there are many aspects of turning an airfield into an airport that have been omitted from the documentation, that should be included, as some costs that will impact on the complete project seem to have not yet seen the light of day. 

As a couple of examples, the phrase rebuilding the fire station is to me, a ‘bricks and mortar’ structure, but does not seem to include some of the operational costs, such as the additional vehicles and equipment that will have to be added when the fire services category goes from level 2 to level 5, or the additional crew that will have to be added to man them. 

The same applies to the rebuilding of the terminal, another ’bricks and mortar’ statement, but no mention of the cost of the new baggage scanner and additional security staff required. 

It is suspected that what they will try to do, is to use the argument that the rehabilitation costings only cover the runway re-building and the ‘bricks and mortar’ structures, with all the necessary, essential operational add-ons being allocated to the Ports & Harbours Alderney Airport account. As these essential operational costs could be as high as the rehabilitation work itself, it is easy to see that even if the figures are ‘massaged’ this way, the final total will be the same, with the Bailiwick taxpayer footing the bill one way or another. 

Alderney Harbour

Pictured: Alderney's Braye Harbour.

Talking of footing the bills, another colossal expense that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned, is that from now, until the expected rehabilitation work actually starts, the existing runway will have to be constantly ’patched up’ to a basic level of operational standard. All the cost of this will be have to be written off when work eventually starts on the airport, as if Option ‘A’ is chosen, it will need to be re-surfaced, whereas if Option C+ goes ahead, all that money will go to waste, as Option C+ will require the existing runway to be dug up, and replaced with a strengthened version suitable for Category C3 aircraft 

Yet another total waste of the Bailiwick taxpayers’ money. 

Has anyone yet mentioned anything about the probability of having to close the airport to allow the re-construction of a new strengthened runway with our only transport link being 12 seat boats, or the astronomical costs involved (charged to the Alderney account) of running an airport to the standards required to accept aircraft such as the ATR72? You bet they haven’t! 

The only real winners in all this are Aurigny, who must be laughing all the way to the bank. 

And why wouldn’t they? After all, the States of Guernsey bought an airline and having no idea how to run one, appointed the very same airline to be its advisors. Their advice has cost the Bailiwick taxpayer best part of £100 million in loans, write-offs and finance guarantees; including of course, the infamous ‘fog busting’ technology that has been unusable since the day it was bought. 

Their Embraer is due to have to have a major check. Before the check it is not worth much, whilst after the check, it could have cost so much to put it back into service, they won’t be able to afford to sell it. 

As far as Alderney is concerned, the taxpayer has been made to finance a great deal of money it hasn’t got, into developing an airport, just so that Aurigny can save themselves money by standardising their fleet. 

When Deputy Neil Inder described Aurigny, he said “As a functioning airline, it seems like an errant teenager. It goes off, runs around, says I’ve lost my money and we just hand it out without any real scrutiny. We ask them where they spent it and they won’t tell us.” 


Pictured: Aurigny's jet and an ATR.

The final kick in the teeth, at least for Alderney residents, is that they are effectively having to pay twice. Once as a Bailiwick taxpayer to cover the airline’s debts and secondly, as an Alderney resident who is now expected to cheer their illustrious States Members, who are already struggling to make ends meet, but now think that it is a good idea to put themselves into £3.5 million of debt. 

All for nothing other than kudos, image, playground politics and a misguided view that big is beautiful, even if by following these idioms, we run ourselves into financial disaster.

It won’t ever matter, because with just two rotations a day between Guernsey and Alderney, no guarantee of a Southampton service outside of peak season and those extra 20,000 empty seats that need to be filled will save us all. After all – we are future proofed. 

Wherever you look and whichever way you look at it, more and more money will have to be spent. Money of which neither Guernsey or Alderney have a surplus to their requirements. 

Finally, any chance of completing the debate was conveniently scuppered by a shortage of the time available to complete the business of the day, coupled with the guillotine motion. Guillotine can be a useful tool to prevent never ending long diatribes, or as one of the erstwhile scribes on this paper suggested, a means of better organisation of speeches to achieve a better effect. However, there are occasions, such as this debate, where the introduction of the guillotine motion is a useful tool to stop those against the motion from having the opportunity to put their case. 

Those who had the stamina to listen to the whole debate will be aware that an inordinate amount of time was spent ploughing through a draft of amendments. During these debates, many Deputies had much more to say, but to save time, they declared that they would leave it until the main debate. Very democratic and seemingly helpful. However, when the actual debate started in earnest, time was running out, especially as this stage it became obvious that there was absolutely no chance of hearing all of those who wished to speak before the scheduled close of business. This is where the downside of the guillotine comes in, as those who speak for the motion first, know full well that the longer they are on their feet, the greater the number of Deputies that will be denied the opportunity to speak against them. Many of these, including Deputies, St Pier, Soulsby and Burford, had important opinions to relate, but not on this occasion, as democracy was thwarted by the political use of the clock? 

Although not sufficient to stop the ‘pasting’ that the States of Alderney received from the Guernsey Deputies throughout the debate, criticising its lack of any form of forward thinking and positive action to put its own house in order. 

GST is looking like the obvious political way out, unless common sense and financial expertise prevail and the Deputies go back and vote down the future of Option C+ on the grounds of cost, and fully re-consider Option A (or Option B), in association with Deputy Burford’s amendment suggestion that serious consideration be given to the principle of using a ‘small aircraft’ fleet to re-establish the flexible inter-island connectivity and of course supply Alderney with its own locally based unbeatable Medivac service (and which could also maintain our vital air services during the runway re-build by operating from the grass runways!). 

Much ‘food for thought’ for 2023, so perhaps I should take a leaf out of Deputy Lester Queripel’s book and make reference to the words of popular song. 

How about a track from the CD, ‘Stuck in The Middle With You’ by Stealers Wheel - ‘Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right’? 

To all the Bailiwick Express readers who have taken the time and interest to read this article: A Very Happy New Year to you all."

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