An airport for St Helena (too late for Napoleon)

In 1815, the British government had a dangerous prisoner on its hands. Napoleon Bonaparte had just been defeated at Waterloo, but he had been defeated before – and exiled to the island of Elba, 12 miles off the coast of Tuscany, but had come storming back.

This second time round, Britain was not going to be caught. They sent him to the most remote place in the entire British empire – the island of St Helena, in the south Atlantic, from which there could be no escape. He died there in 1821.

Even today, St Helena is reckoned to about the most remote place inhabited by human beings – but yesterday there was a prospect that its days of isolation are over, because the UK Government has told the islanders they can have an airport. It means that while other government departments cut spending to the bone, the Department for International Development – whose budget is protected from the cuts – will be spending an estimated £300m on St Helena's airport.

The decision is a personal triumph for the billionaire Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, who is well known to have a soft spot for old colonial outposts.

In January, when he was flying his private plane from Namibia to Brazil, he took a detour to "buzz" St Helena at low altitude, to publicise their cause. The islanders came out of their homes for this rare sighting of a low-flying aircraft and Mike Olsson – who runs the island's radio station – interviewed the peer as he circled overhead.

Lord Ashcroft has also tabled questions in the House of Lords, demanding a decision on the island's future. "He is absolutely thrilled by the decision," his spokesman said yesterday. "If you were a betting man you could wager a modest bet on him being in the first plane to land on the island."

The Labour MP Meg Munn, who was the Foreign Office minister responsible for Overseas Territories in 2007-08, has been another vociferous supporter of the islanders' case. She also welcomed yesterday's decision: "It makes absolute economic sense. It would have cost us a lot more in the long run not to build the airport."

St Helena is one of the last remnants of the British Empire, ruled by a governor appointed by the Queen and receiving £20m a year in grants from Britain's overseas aid budget – more than £5,000 per head of population. It consists of less than 50 square miles of volcanic rock, 1,400 miles west of the nearest mainland port, Walvis Bay in Namibia and 1,800 miles east of the coast of Brazil. The islanders' nearest neighbours are on Ascension Island, 800 miles to the north.

The islanders have campaigned for years for an airport, because their only contact with the outside world is a ship, the RMS St Helena, which does a regular run to and from Cape Town.

But the ship is due for the scrapheap. It broke down in November 1999 – when it was on its way to take essential supplies and passengers to the island – and had to be docked in the French port of Brest. While it was being repaired, the islanders were completely cut off and left anxiously wondering if they were going to run out of food and other essentials.

The International Development department agreed in 2005 that St Helena needed an airport and by October 2008 was in the process of negotiating a contract when the banking crisis began. Gordon Brown ordered that the project be put on hold and called for the papers so he could personally go through all the figures and see if the UK was getting value for money.

The International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said in a statement yesterday that a new airport would give the island the chance to pay its way in the world, whereas if all it got was a new ship, it would always be dependent on UK government handouts.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

SENCO

£21000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: SENCO - Benfleet - J...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker