‘Boris Bridge’ study may not come to pass, but it placed renewed focus on NI’s links with GB, says DUP
The feasibility study into the so-called ‘Boris Bridge’ was very useful in highlighting NI’s connections to GB, despite reports that the £20bn project will not go ahead, it is claimed.
The DUP had consistently welcomed the proposed bridge as a means to strengthen the union. In February last year the party’s East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, whose constituency of Larne would most likely have been linked to Portpatrick in Scotland, said: “The decision to conduct a feasibility study into a bridge link between Northern Ireland and Scotland is something which my party has endorsed for a number of years because we believe it has the potential to further strengthen our economy and the sinews which hold our Union together.”
Today the DUP said the plans had been helpful in focusing on NI’s links with GB. DUP MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee Jonathan Buckley told the News Letter: “Our call for a feasibility study into a physical link with Great Britain placed a renewed focus on the importance of our links with the rest of the UK.
“The impact of Covid and the unprecedented levels of Government support have clearly impacted upon Government spending and projects across the UK have been reviewed. The Union Connectivity Review remains vitally important however, and there is a continued need to improve links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Sea crossings remain some of the most expensive in Europe and improvements to the A77 are necessary to improve journey times in both directions between Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
But East Antrim UUP MLA Roy Beggs was more sceptical.
“Unfortunately, I am not surprised that the so-called ‘Boris bridge’ has been scrapped and that Sir Peter Hendy`s report has found that is isn`t currently viable,” he told the News Letter. “We did raise concerns about the technical engineering obstacles that would have to be overcome in terms of the Beaufort Dyke chasm, the huge ammunition dump and the harsh conditions in the Irish Sea. Never mind funding the billions of pounds that it would cost. Sadly, it was the inevitable outcome.
“We must now ensure that we focus on improving connectivity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and will be asking the Government to invest some of the money that would have been spent to build the bridge, on improving the road system in Scotland, not least the A75 and the A77. It is vital that our transport links with Scotland and England will still feature as prominently in future spending plans to improve connectivity across the United Kingdom.”
The recommendation to cancel the project is expected to be confirmed with the publication of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review.
Ministers asked the transport expert to examine the links between the four nations of the United Kingdom and to recommend projects to improve public transport connections.
Parts of the Irish Sea are as deep as 300m in some parts, meaning it could be difficult to sink support towers into the seabed, while there are also concerns around the fact the area was used as an ammunition dump during the Second World War.
A government source told the Sunday Telegraph: “Hendy has examined if this is affordable and practical and he concludes it would be technically very challenging.
“That’s not to say it won’t become viable at some point, but at the moment it would be very, very difficult and expensive.”
Two links were suggested for the bridge, either linking Portpatrick with Larne, or near Campbeltown to the Antrim coast.
But SDLP Deputy Leader and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced today that she has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to “hand over” the funds for the “failed” bridge.She had previously complained that the UK government had not consulted with her as Infrastructure Minister about the proposals and has consistently called the plans a “Tory vanity project”.
She said: “Finally Boris Johnson seems to accept that his vanity project, the Boris Bridge, is not only technically unworkable but is a gross misuse of public money.
The SNP’s party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, labelled the plans “daft” but also claimed the money for the bridge “can and should be made available”.
Earlier this year, the then cabinet secretary for transport, Michael Matheson, said money for infrastructure improvements in Scotland should go through existing channels and not come from the connectivity review.
Ulster University Economist Esmond Birnie said it is impossible to know if NI will ever benefit financially as a result of the plans.
“That question is unanswerable,” he told the News Letter. “We don’t know how much it would have cost and how the funding would have been achieved, for example, how much straight from Treasury or how much in effect a deduction from the NI block grant.”
He said it was made more complicated because, if the UK government was going to spend £20bn over 10 years building the bridge, it cannot be known how much the UK was going to spend in NI over that period, in order to make a comparison with spending plans if they are scrapped.
Asked if those behind the proposals had ever been serious about seeing them through, he added: “I’m sure the engineers who advocated the project were convinced that it was do-able and beneficial. It is not for me as an academic economist to speculate about the underlying motivations of some of the politicians.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport spokesman declined to confirm or deny if the plans have been scrapped. “We don’t comment on speculation,” he told the News Letter. “The Union Connectivity Review will be published shortly.”
He said the Department is not able to confirm what the cost of the feasibility studies have been up until now.
Alan Dunlop, an architect in Stirling and visiting professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool previously said the project was feasible in the technical sense.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” he told the News Letter today. “Leaked reports in the media a month or so ago confirmed that this would happen. I’m disappointed because I know it can be done, creating a link, bridging the UK with Northern Ireland would be a project fit for the 21st Century, but politics seems to have scuppered the whole idea. It’s a pity, for the UK government talks a lot about Building Back Better and levelling up but there is no obvious strategy for infrastructure, architecture or the built environment.
“This is a project that would have been a world first, nothing like it has been done before and it would help, like Roosevelt’s New Deal put people back to work.”
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