Earthworks for Kediri Airport and an adjacent development

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, on 15th April 2020, officials from the Indonesian government and the East Java province attended a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for a new airport in the Kediri regency. The event marked the official start of construction works that had actually begun three months earlier in January when heavy machines were levelling soil, following several delays that were partly caused by some affected residents refusing to release their land for the project due to unpaid compensation. Fewer than 20 families, in the villages of Bedreck and Bulusari, remained in the area. A villager told The Jakarta Post “If we accept the price, we won’t be able to buy land and build a house of similar value to what we have now”. She said none of the villagers wished to hamper development of the airport, they simply wanted fair compensation. The Kediri administration said that only 0.6 per cent of the 400 hectares of land required to build the airport had not been acquired.

The Kediri Airport project (also referred to as Dhoho Airport) was approved in 2018. The first of the satellite images above shows the airport site area in April 2018, consisting of villages and farmland. The second image shows the same area in June 2020 after earthworks had levelled large areas of land. The third satellite image is from November 2020, by which time earthworks had progressed and impacted upon a larger area, transforming the landscape from verdant green to a pale expanse of crushed and compacted rock. Adjoining this area, extending to the southwest, additional earthworks and construction of roads can be seen. This airport-adjacent development is shown in the fourth and final image in the slideshow, a graphic of the Kediri Master Plan visualising a future tourism and residential complex in this area. Produced by ARKDESIGN Architects and Planners, the ‘MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN, PLANTATION RESORT & RESIDENCES’ shows two commercial development areas, a warehouse, utility complex and parking adjoining the airport terminal and cargo buildings. Extending to the southwest is an area allocated for hotels, residences and various tourism facilities including five lakes. Progress of construction of the one of these artificial lakes, near the centre of the planned development, can be seen in the satellite images. The graphic indicates proximity to Mount Wilis, a solitary volcanic massif amidst the surrounding low-lying plains. The route of a future toll road is shown extending from the southeast of the project site, between the airport and the adjacent development.

Controversy over land acquisition for Kediri Airport dates back to 2017, when residents, aware of large-scale land acquisition, questioned whether it was a government or private project. In March 2019 residents of one of the affected villages, Jatirejo, hung dozens of banners along village roads, stating their refusal to accept the prices offered by land buyers for agricultural land, that they said were too low. In October 2019 37 head of family residents of Bedrek Selatan hamlet, Grogol village, had not released their land for the airport project as they had not agreed compensation. The airport plan had caused the price of land around the project site to soar. Land prices had also gone up in Bulusari village where some residents were confused over where to relocate to. Some who had received compensation were experiencing difficulties in finding places to relocate to because of soaring land prices. A shift in the location of the airport runway had required acquisition of additional land, leaving residents with difficulties finding land to relocate to. In January 2020 45 residents of Grogol village rejected land acquisition, protesting over a drop in the compensation offer that would only be sufficient for them to buy land in far away suburbs. Residents’ coordinator said they were being pressured to give up their land for the airport. In February 2020, just two months before the groundbreaking ceremony, some residents had still not agreed to the compensation offers for land acquisition. Ten families were refusing eviction because, while the price of land in their village had dropped drastically, the price of land in new locations where they might settle had risen; they faced the prospect of a huge loss. A resident of Bedrek spoke of repeated visits by land buyers over several months and being pressured to accept the price offered for land.

At the time of writing some residents are still unwilling to leave their homes and suffer the impacts of airport construction works. Several villages – Tarokan, Tiron, Bangkan, Jatirejo and Grogol – have been demolished for the airport project and most of the inhabitants had left. Tugiyem, one of few villagers remaining in Mbandrek Selatan, spoke in the midst of swirling dust and roaring engines of construction vehicles, staring at a pile of dredged rocks. She had lived there since the 1960s and used to work gazing livestock, but her animals were left dying as the construction company had fenced off the land and she could not reach them. A metal fence erected on one side of Grogol, ostensibly to deter trespassing and reduce pollution from construction works, limits residents’ access to their village. One of the main roads connecting Grogol village has been blocked off to aid construction works. This had forced farmers taking their crops to the city to take longer routes and food stalls and shops near the road had to shut down. Within a month of closing access to the road four shops had gone bankrupt. Owners of surviving shops have to rely on custom from their neighbours, including Siti Anggirawan who was forced to close her textile shop. Waiting for customers outside her grocery store, Sri Katun said air quality in Grogol had deteriorated, “When a strong wind blows, construction dust drifts into the house. I often cough.” But she had no thoughts of giving up the land she had bought after years of saving up money, saying, “This house is witness to my ups and downs alongside my husband. We want to die on this land that has been part of our history.”

Earthworks for the airport project consisted of a cut and fill excavation up to 35 metres high. Rivers are being diverted away from the runway via two enormous box culverts, one 570 metres in length and the other 470 metres, made from reinforced concrete. A 3,300 metre runway is being built, to acommodate the largest world’s largest aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. Construction of the airport proceeds even though plummetting air traffic since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic casts doubts on the feasibility of traffic predictions. And the projections for Kediri Airport, as reported in ACI World Airport Development News, Issue 4 2020, are ambitious. Upon completion of the first phase of construction, scheduled for April 2022, Kediri Airport is projected to handle 1.5 million passengers per annum, eventually rising to more than 10 million annually. A Transport Ministry offical said Kediri Airport would serve domestic flights for tourism, and might also be used for cargo related to possible future agricultural and industrial activity in East Java. Kediri Airport is the first in Indonesia to be fully funded by the private sector. Tobacco company Gudang Garam will spend up to USD732 million to acquire 457 hectares of land and a subsidiary, Surya Dhoho Investama, will oversee development of the airport.

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