MPs have highlighted the “staggering” failure of a £285 million taxpayer-funded project that built an unusable airport on the island of St Helena.
Commercial aircraft are unable use the airport on the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic because of wind hazards that have been known about for at least 180 years.
The public accounts committee accuses the Department for International Development of evading questions on who was responsible for the project, funded from the UK’s aid budget.
MPs said the problem of wind shear on St Helena was noted by Charles Darwin in 1836 and it was “staggering that the department did not foresee and address the impact of difficult wind conditions”.
Airline flights have been suspended while studies are carried out to see whether changes can be made to allow some limited service to operate.
The committee’s report accuses Dfid of being evasive about who was responsible for modelling the effect of wind on the airport and overstating its benefits to the island economy, The Times reported.
It set a deadline of April for Dfid to publish its strategy and forecast costs to bring the airport into commercial use.
“The department has unquestionably failed the residents of St Helena and the British taxpayer,” the committee said. “It has spent £285.5 million of taxpayers’ money on building an airport in St Helena that is not usable.
“There is also doubt over whether the airport, when operational, will lead to St Helena becoming financially self-sufficient, due to significant uncertainties over projected tourist growth figures.”
Officials told MPs that Dfid commissioned a feasibility study on the airport from consultants Atkins, and acted on its recommendations, as well as taking advice from the Met Office and aviation regulators.
The report noted that Atkins expressed doubts about local weather conditions, including the amount of turbulence that could be expected.
The committee’s Labour chairman Meg Hillier said: “The failure to undertake robust due diligence is truly appalling.
“The result is a disaster: a commercial airport that is not fit for purpose, no credible plan to salvage value for money and no clarity on who is responsible.”
The Dfid said: “We will deliver on what we promised for the island and identify [people responsible for] failures to ensure they are held to account.”
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