Northern Ireland to Scotland bridge not financially viable, claims top economist
A leading economist yesterday poured cold water on plans to build a bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland - saying the costs would simply outweigh the economic benefits.
Dr Esmond Birnie of Ulster University said any bridge to Scotland would be unlikely to pay for itself in the long term.
The proposal re-emerged after Conservative Party leadership favourite Boris Johnson backed the bridge when he visited Northern Ireland earlier this week.
Dr Birnie suggested that the billions of pounds the bridge would cost - estimated at £20bn, plus perhaps another billion for roads on either side - could be better spent on other infrastructure and social projects.
"Even on the most generous assumptions it is unlikely that the total measurable economic benefits of such a bridge would come anywhere close to its very considerable cost," he said.
"Even if a future UK government or prime minister decided this was a vital strategic piece of infrastructure which should go ahead regardless of multi-billion pound cost - an equivalent to Crossrail or HS2 or more runways in the South East - this would beg the question of how it would be funded," he added.
The economist warned that the Treasury would be unlikely to meet the full cost - which could mean a Stormont government taking out a long and expensive "mortgage", whereby an annual deduction of hundreds of millions was made from NI's block grant annually.
"It isn't as though we don't have plenty of competing big ticket item demands on NI public funding: £1bn to reduce NHS waiting lists, £1.2bn to repair roads, £2bn+ to upgrade water and sewerage," he said.
Plans for the bridge were included by the DUP in its 2015 election manifesto.
And Boris Johnson described himself as "an enthusiast for that idea" this week. But he said it "should be pursued by a dynamic NI government championed by local people with local consent and interest, backed by local business and mobilised by the politicians in NI".
He added: "With infrastructure projects, finance is not the issue. The issue is political will, the issue is getting the business community to see this could be something that works for them, the issue is getting popular demand and popular consent for a great infrastructure project, and that is why you need Stormont."