A leading DUP figure has championed the idea of a bridge linking Scotland with Northern Ireland, claiming it could provide a major economic boon for both countries.
Sammy Wilson said such an endeavour would offer a “much-needed alternative” to high-priced ferry crossings and claimed the gains would outweigh any costs involved.
The former finance minister added that the oft-derided idea of a fixed crossing across the North Channel of the Irish Sea was “entirely feasible” from a technical standpoint.
His remarks come after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last week floated plans for a crossing across the English Channel, with an estimated price tag of £120bn.
But East Antrim MP Mr Wilson claimed a bridge connecting the Antrim coast with south west Scotland would not only be much cheaper, it would also be much easier to build logistically.
However, he acknowledged that such a move would be low on the government’s list of priorities and said the venture would be reliant on private investment to get it off the ground.
Alan Dunlop, one of the UK’s leading architects and a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, has also backed the mooted link across the Irish Sea, claiming the business potential is “exceptional”.
Prof Dunlop estimated it would cost around £15bn.
While Mr Wilson conceded that a crossing over the English Channel is a much more financially appealing prospect for the government, he argued that there are already sufficient connections between England and France.
“It is obvious that the potential number of people using a bridge between Europe and the UK would dwarf those using one between Scotland and Northern Ireland,” he told the News Letter.
“But there are a number of alternatives for people using that route, whereas the lack of competition on the route between NI and Scotland has led to a surge in ferry prices.
“We must also remember that NI’s main export market is GB, so it would be hugely beneficial to have improved connections between the two.
“A crossing would have a major positive impact on both countries economically.”
The notion of a bridge spanning the North Channel has long been dismissed as unworkable by many leading engineers.
But Mr Wilson said the idea was not as far-fetched as it may seem.
“People used to think the Channel tunnel was pie in the sky,” he added.
“This idea of a fixed crossing has been derided as nonsense for years, but it is entirely feasible from a technical point of view.”
There are two potential routes for a Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge.
The shorter route would be from around Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre across to the Antrim coastline.
But Mr Wilson dismissed this option, stating: “The road connections on either side of this route would not lend themselves to the heavy volume of traffic coming across.”
The second option is between Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway and Larne, Co Antrim, a distance of around 25 miles.
In its 2015 election manifesto, the DUP called for a feasibility study into “a tunnel or enclosed bridge across the North Channel from Larne to the Scottish coastline”.