The government is to spend tens of millions of pounds building an airport on the tiny island of St Helena, it has been revealed.
International development secretary Andrew Mitchell said the UK had an “obligation” to improve access to the remote Overseas Territory - which has a population of just over 4,000.
Currently, the only public traffic to the island is on the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St Helena.
The Labour government originally pledged to construct an airport on St Helena in 2005, before putting the project on hold last year citing the difficult economic climate.
However, in a statement to MPs today, Mitchell - whose department has been controversially exempted from swingeing Whitehall cuts designed to tackle the deficit - said: “The Government recognises its special responsibilities and international obligations towards its Overseas Territories, and is committed to supporting their economic development…
“Should an airport not be built, HM Government would have to spend an estimated £64M on a new ship, because the current vessel is reaching the end of its economic life, and continue to subsidise its operating costs.
“St Helena would stand little chance of becoming financially independent, meaning it would permanently rely on substantial annual budgetary and other support from HM Government (currently in excess of £20M every year).
“A new ship would provide a costly service, but not a solution to St Helena’s stagnation and perpetual dependence on UK aid support.”
The green light is contingent on the Government achieving an “acceptable contract price” for the project, as well as reforms by the St Helena government to boost its economy.
The cost of the airport to the UK taxpayer is expected to be well in excess of the £64M bill for a new ship.
But Mitchell insisted that the “additional short-term costs” were “outweighed by the long-term benefits” if St Helena was able to operate without Government subsidy.