Belfast Telegraph

Forget 'la-la land' Northern Ireland to Scotland bridge and focus on realistic projects, PM told

Deirdre Heenan
Deirdre Heenan
John McKinley

By Gillian Halliday

The Prime Minister has been urged to consign his "la-la land" plan for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland to the dustbin and instead prioritise other infrastructure projects.

Deirdre Heenan, a professor at Ulster University, on Tuesday branded Boris Johnson's proposal an "absurd idea" that was "logistically, economically and politically a non-starter".

Her intervention came as Dr John McKinley, senior lecturer in environmental engineering at Queen's University Belfast, said the scheme - estimated by some experts to cost at least £15bn - would not likely be the most effective use of public money.

The academics spoke out after leading economist Dr Esmond Birnie said Stormont needed a cash injection of £5bn - around three times less the amount estimated to construct the bridge - to get Northern Ireland up and running again.

The claims came as the Executive faced up to a growing crisis over an expected shortfall in funding from Westminster.

Mr Johnson has long been a vocal supporter of a bridge across the Irish Sea and raised the idea publicly last Autumn.

When recently asked by Ian Paisley about whether or not he supported the scheme, the Prime Minister said, "Watch this space".

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Professor Heenan, however, insisted it would be "ludicrous" for the Conservative Party leader to persist with the project when local public services are "decayed and stagnating".

"Neither viable, nor desirable, it is nonsensical to even be discussing (a bridge) at a time when our infrastructure is woefully inadequate," she said.

"It is in dire need of upgrade and modernisation.

"We need a high-speed rail link from Derry to Belfast and improved infrastructure will be an important facilitator for comprehensive health and social care reform."

"Engineers and experts have already dismissed it as ludicrous idea.

"Why on earth would anyone entertain such an idea?

"It is a fantasy that should be dismissed once and for all.

"It is a la-la land idea when public services are decayed and stagnating."

Dr McKinley, meanwhile, warned that even if the project got off the ground, he would be "very, very surprised if the benefits outweighed the costs".

He pointed out that the estimated £15bn cost equated to almost £10,000 for every person in Northern Ireland.

"Without having done the figures, I would expect that it (the bridge) is not a good use of that amount of money," Dr McKinley explained.

"When Dublin looked at making a link between Wales and Ireland, (they found) it would cost considerably more than the Eurotunnel and generate a lot less benefits."

Dr McKinley stressed that even in the long term the project would be unlikely to recoup its capital investment.

"I would be very surprised if that were the case," he said.

"It would partly displace some existing traffic by taking some of the traffic away from the ferries. We would have to account for that.

"It would have to generate a lot more additional traffic between the two areas in order to make it worthwhile."

If the bridge is given the green light, it would likely be established between Larne and Portpatrick or the Mull of Kintyre and Torr Head.

Regardless of the route, the government would spend "quite a lot of money" just working out the cost, according to Dr McKinley.

"The costings for HS2 (the planned high-speed railway link which in its first phase will connect London and Birmingham), which were fully worked out when the project was approved, are currently nearly twice the original costings," he said.

"I would prioritise other infrastructure. I would be encouraging them (Stormont) to look at support for electrical vehicles, the rail network and the main trunk network of the roads, in that order.

"The rail and trunk network would both be about improving connectivity to the major urban areas and across the border into the Republic.

"For a lot of the routes you more or less have to go into Belfast and then out again. It would stop that being required."

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