18 July 2023

Runway report ‘surrender’ shows why Economic Development Committee should resign

Economic Development Committee should resign following publication of a report that took four years and £305,000 to prepare only to try to pass the project onto another States committee, the Guernsey Hospitality Association has said.

Independent analysis had twice demonstrated that repurposing the runway would bring tangible benefits to the island, pay for itself and reduce air fares but the department charged with economic growth had simply abrogated its responsibilities.

“This is beyond belief,” GHA president Alan Sillett said. “All the data the committee has paid to obtain supports the case for a 1,623 metre runway within the existing boundary, the cost-benefit analysis stacks up, yet despite the evidence Economic Development refuses to make a decision.’’

“What a failure Economic Development has become under president Neil Inder that its ‘recommendation’ for the runway is to dump the project on the States Trading Supervisory Board – without even discussing it with them first. And the President of STSB has openly stated that he is not in favour of a longer runway’’.

Mr Sillett highlighted the fact that the EDC’s mandated purpose was “To secure prosperity through the generation of wealth and the creation of the greatest number and widest range of employment opportunities possible by promoting and developing business, commerce and industry in all sectors of the economy.”

Only two of its members voted against the anti-growth and business goods and service tax (GST) while Deputy Inder voted in favour of GST.

“This latest debacle from the committee shows States members and the island must question whether the current membership is fit for purpose. Look at their performance record and it’s one of inaction, prevarication and under-achievement,’’ said Mr Sillett.

“It outsourced development of a tourism strategy to a part-time board that doesn’t have full sector support and, in our view, are set up to fail and deflect scrutiny from Deputy Inder. The medicinal cannabis strategy, personally backed by Deputy Inder, has degenerated into a total fiasco as had its plan to bypass normal competition laws and ease Sure’s takeover of Airtel-Vodafone.

“In short, what has this committee achieved? What has it done to boost economic growth or productivity?

“Where is the plan for growth?”

If the committee members were worried that supporting growth for the future might damage their chances of re-election in 2025, they should have the integrity and moral courage to say so, said Mr Sillett.

“Our other observations of this report are that it inflates the actual cost of the runway work. We are led to believe that amongst a number of ‘add-ons’, at least £40m (approx. £10m every ten years) of the £79m cost quoted includes essential works and general maintenance that would need to be carried out anyway, even with the current runway length,” said Mr Sillett.

“We have increased security, we have doubled the number of employees, but have fewer passengers using it.”

He said the GHA understood that AECOM, who was the facilitator of the committee’s report, never actually visited the island to inspect the runway, and have not been involved in any installations of EMAS in the UK. In contrast, at London City airport EMAS (Engineered Arresting Management System) is being installed for an estimated £15m.

“Bluntly, the process of how the Guernsey runway project has been handled surely has to be questioned,” said Mr Sillett.

“It seems CfED are either incapable of or simply not up to making such an important decision, which only highlights how a CfED and its president appear to be bankrupt of not only ideas but any sort of conviction either.’’

Jamie Le Friec, owner of the Driftwood Inn at Perelle and GHA vice president, said islanders should be under no illusion about how serious a blow CfED throwing in the towel was for not only the visitor economy, but the island’s economy as a whole.

He said that included in the CfED report, Frontier Economics says of extending the runway: “Updated figures suggest that economic benefits still outweigh costs”.

“We are shrinking our transport options. It’s not simply an equation of Aurigny vs. low-cost carriers (although Jersey people are delighted that EasyJet fly there). What about BA, Aer Lingus, Air France, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, KLM, etc? plus the Aurigny jet could actually fly further afield with a full payload rather than with a section of empty seats as it does now,’’ Mr Le Friec said.

“We’ve already had GHA members asking whether the States will now release covenants from all accommodation providers stating that there will be no growth in the future and the sector is unable to invest due to no future sign of growth.

“They can’t have it both ways, forcing sites to remain as hotels with connectivity that is worse than 30 years ago,” said Mr Le Friec.