Nakuru to have new airport as work starts

The ground-breaking ceremony of Nakuru Airport at 81 Tank Battalion Barracks in Lanet on Tuesday. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nakuru has inched closer to an international airport, 15 years after the dream was conceptualised.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Sh2 billion airport at the 81 Tank Battalion Barracks in Lanet was held on Tuesday, attended by politicians and high-ranking military officers.

Deputy Kenya Air Force Commander Brigadier John Omenda assured residents that the military will provide necessary support towards implementation of the project.

“This national project will serve Nakuru County and the entire country at large. I urge all players in this project to cooperate to make it successful for the benefit of the country. We are optimistic it will bring development to the country,” said Brigadier Omenda. The government has allocated Sh400 million for the project in the current financial year, with a promise of additional funding in subsequent years.

Transport Principal Secretary Solomon Kitungu described the project as “an early Christmas gift for the county and a major milestone.”

The first phase of the project will entail upgrading the current military airstrip to an airport that will serve both the military and civilians. The facility will handle both commercial and passenger flights from across the country.

“The current airstrip will be upgraded to bitumen standards after which we shall set up two aprons and two terminal buildings; one for civilians and another for the military. A civilian access road will also be set up,” said Mr Kitungu.

He revealed that the first phase of the project will be undertaken within the next 18 months in preparation for the first civilian flights.

“In the second phase, we shall extend the runway from current 1.7km to 3.1km, and widen it to 30 metres. This will allow for landing of larger aircraft, which might be unable to land in Nairobi.”

The PS said technical issues and environmental factors at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) have in the past forced flights to be diverted to distant airports, which is an inconvenience.

Transport Ps Solomon Kitungu and Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui presiding over the ceremony at 81 Tank Battalion barracks in Lanet, Nakuru County on December 15, 2020. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“When we have challenges at JKIA, flights are diverted to Mombasa, which is over 400 kilometres away in air travel. Nakuru is slightly over 130 kilometres from Nairobi by air. This makes it easier for flights to be diverted to Nakuru than Mombasa.”

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the project will boost the horticultural and tourism sectors that play a pivotal role in the country’s economy. “Even as the government expands the Nairobi to Mau Summit Highway into a dual carriageway, this airport will be a critical infrastructure. It will better position the county as a tourist destination and help in getting perishable goods to Nairobi,” said Mr Kinyanjui. Kenya Association of Manufacturers South Rift chairperson Peris Mbuthia said the manufacturing sector will benefit from the airport.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Nakuru Airport at 81 Tank Battalion barracks in Lanet, Nakuru county on December 15, 2020.[Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“Nakuru is among the fastest growing towns and an industrial hub with great potential. As more industries set up base in Nakuru, we shall make good use of air transport to support this initiative,” said Ms Mbuthia. Nakuru Business Association chairperson Mwangi Muchemi said exporters and local tourists will be among the biggest winners once the airport is operationalised.

“As a business community we shall not allow this project to turn into a white elephant. There is high demand for air travel in the county, which has remained largely unavailable,” said Mr Muchemi.

Nakuru Tourism Association chairperson David Mwangi said the airport will be a “catalyst of economic growth with the potential to outgrow other airports in the country.”

“Opening up of Nakuru and its elevation to city status will make ours one of the biggest cities. Coupled with the vibrant hospitality industry and industrial parks, the airport will be busy and will soon be one of the largest in the country and region,” said Mr Mwangi. Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri called on the government to ensure residents benefit from the jobs that will be created during the airport’s construction.

“We have almost every material needed by the contractor for this job. The contractor should be compelled to absorb local labour and source materials from local dealers. We want our people to own this project,” said Mr Ngunjiri.

The event, however, was not without controversy after politicians, including Senator Susan Kihika, Woman Rep Liza Chelule and Ngunjiri complained they had not been officially invited by the governor.

Ms Kihika claimed none of the MPs had been invited to the function. “I am extremely upset that such an event was an invite-only and local leaders were not informed.” Ngunjiri said despite being the host, he, too, had learnt about the event through social media. He criticised the decision to leave out local leaders.

“None of the MPs have sent apologies that they won’t attend this function since they were never invited in the first place. The county government should cease politicising and taking full credit of national government projects,” he said.

Ms Chelule said she was upset that she was only informed about the event by a resident. But Lands Executive Frank Mwangi said they had no intention of sidelining the political leaders.

“We sent invitations to all offices of the MPs, MCAs and the senator and we have a delivery book to that effect. It is not true MPs were not invited,” said Mr Mwangi.

The governor said he would not respond to the accusations. “This is a military facility and you have to handle yourself with decorum here. I choose not to respond to your claims at this point,” he said.

Source: The Standard

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