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Infrastructure minister Mallon labels PM's bridge a waste of money

Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has written to the Government to express her "surprise and disappointment" she was not consulted on controversial proposals for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It's after Downing Street confirmed earlier this week ministers would report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a feasibility study had been carried out on the idea, which has appeared in various guises over the years.

Mr Johnson has said work is under way to assess the feasibility of a bridge between Portpatrick and Larne - estimated to cost £20 billion.

The revelation has promoted the SDLP's Mallon to write to the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps in tandem with her counterpart in Scotland, the SNP's Michael Matheson.

The Scottish Transport Secretary has called for urgent talks over the proposals, which he labelled the Prime Minister's "vanity project".

Ms Mallon said she's surprised such an announcement was made without discussion with her department, given that transport is a devolved matter.

"I want to make it clear that a lack of investment by successive British Governments has,for a number of years, restricted the necessary investment in vital infrastructure and public transport here," she said in the letter.

"Infrastructure investment should be focused on projects that will improve lives, boost connectivity and our economy, enhance our communities and work to address the climate crisis."

She asked for clarity on what exactly is being proposed by government ministers and for an explanation as to why ministers and officials in Northern Ireland had not been consulted in advance of the announcement.

"I am extremely concerned that pursuit of this project, costing £20 billion,will be a waste of significant money and resource that could be put to better use by addressing pressures and deliverable projects here in Northern Ireland and elsewhere."

In his letter, MSP Mr Matheson said rather than indulging the prime minister, funding should be made available to the Northern Ireland and Scotland governments to meet the priorities of the people they serve.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also reiterated this call.

Mr Matheson requested immediate discussions with officials to discuss the release of the £20bn identified for the project.

He also raised concern about a vast munitions dump at Beaufort's Dyke in the Irish Sea, which bomb disposal experts have warned would make it impossible to build the bridge over the most direct route, which is 31 miles long and up to 300 metres deep.

Speaking to the Guardian, Robin Rickard, a consultant with the explosive ordnance advisers Exord, said : "Any intrusive works such as piling associated with the construction of bridges would pose an unacceptable level of risk" because it could disturb the munitions on the seabed.

"Without knowing the planned design and engineering methodology, but assuming it would involve deep intrusive seabed works in proximity to unexploded ordnance, it would thereby represent a significant risk to the project and its personnel."

There is no problem with distance, money or the Beaufort’s Dyke explosives disposal area, according to the Prime Minister.

An engineer has suggested the span could be ready within 15 years.

Mr Matheson said money spent to work around the problem "could be put to better use on practical, deliverable projects".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the cooperation between ministers in Northern Ireland and Scotland .

“This project could cost in the region of £20 billion, which would be an utter waste of public money, when it could be better spent addressing ongoing pressures and investing in communities across the North.”

"Projects like the A5, the A6 and Narrow Water Bridge would contribute significantly more towards economic growth in the North than this white elephant project in the Irish Sea."

The Department for Transport has been asked for a response.

Belfast Telegraph