South of Scotland Labour MSP and Shadow Transport Secretary Colin Smyth has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to demand any feasibility study into the creation of a bridge from Portpatrick to Larne in Northern Ireland must include an economic impact assessment of upgrading the A75 and A77 and improving rail links to the ferry port at Cairnryan.
On Monday, Number 10 said work was under way “by a range of government officials” to look at the idea of building a Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge.
This route would be more than 20 miles across the Irish Sea. Some experts have suggested £15bn might be required for the project but others have said that £20bn would be a “conservative estimate”.
However, Colin Smyth has called on the Prime Minister to consider the wider implications of such a step, including the fact that the existing infrastructure in the south west of Scotland is not fit for purpose.
Colin Smyth said: “Talk of a bridge between Portpatrick and Larne is simply a game of fantasy politics and an attempt by the Prime Minister to distract attention from the reality that links between Scotland and Northern Ireland face barriers as a result of brexit, not least the extra checks required when goods are transported between the two countries.
“But if the Prime Minister wants to discuss how you break down the barriers he is creating and wants to spend time and money on the feasibility of a bridge, he needs to recognise that the existing road and rail infrastructure need investment now.
“We already have a bridge to Northern Ireland: it’s called the Cairnryan Ferry Port. People don’t complain about the ferries to Larne or Belfast. They complain about the journey to get the ferries.
“But let’s call Boris’s bluff. He can’t say he wants to explore the possibility of a bridge without admitting that the links between the two countries need strengthened.
“So I have written to him to ask that any feasibility study he plans into his bridge must include an economic impact assessment of upgrading the A75 and A77 and improving rail links to the ferry port at Cairnryan.
“This study could be included in an extended Borderlands Growth Deal. I have no doubt such a study would show that strengthening the infrastructure links to Cairnryan ferry port will do more to build bridges between Scotland and Northern Ireland than his Boris bridge and it could be done for a fraction of the £20 billion he appears to want to spend. Boris needs to stop fantasising over a bridge and invest in the A75, A77 and proper rail links.”
Dear Prime Minister
SCOTLAND – NORTHERN IRELAND BRIDGE
I am writing to you regarding recent comments from the UK Government that work is being carried out into the “feasibility” of a bridge across the Irish Sea linking Scotland with Northern Ireland, potentially from Portpatrick, in my South Scotland region, to Larne.
I remain sceptical that such a development is viable, but if the UK Government wish to invest time and money into such a study, and rightly want to consider how to strengthen links between Scotland and Northern Ireland, it should look at all options.
We currently have a bridge to Northern Ireland. It’s called Cairnryan ferry port. However, at present the road links to that port, primarily the A75 and A77 are not fit for purpose. The lack of dual carriageways, the risks of long diversions in the event of a closure and slower speed limits passing through the numerous towns and villages which are not bypassed make it impossible for drivers to know how long their journey will take them, impacting on business links to Northern Ireland. In contrast, Heysham, Holyhead and Liverpool ports are all serviced by a safer, faster road network, leaving the south west of Scotland behind.
There is also no rail link to Cairnryan port itself and the current links to the nearest railway station in Stranraer are poor. The former 73 mile rail line between Dumfries and Stranraer, that provided a link to the north of England, closed in 1965. There are currently no plans for electrification of the existing railway from Glasgow to Stranraer, certainly any further south than Girvan.
I believe therefore that any feasibility study into strengthening infrastructure should include an economic impact assessment into improving existing transport links to the ferry port at Cairnryan. This could be included in an extended Borderlands Growth Deal.
I would therefore strongly urge you to consider this matter carefully and I look forward to hearing from you.
Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland Region