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Opinion: Money for Scotland bridge would be better spent on Northern Ireland infrastructure

Ian Knox cartoon 12/2/20 
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Boris Johnson is fond of big infrastructure projects, seeing them as part of his legacy although the astronomical cost of such schemes appears to be of lesser concern.

Yesterday he approved the controversial high-speed rail project HS2, which is due to link London with Birmingham in the first phase and then Manchester and Leeds.

According to the latest estimates it could cost up to £106 billion, an eye-watering figure which has soared since the initial budget in 2011 of £32 billion.

There is no doubt this will be a hugely challenging and complex scheme and maintaining discipline on costs and scheduling will be just part of that.

However, the prime minister also has his eye on another challenging and complex project, a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It emerged this week that a number of officials are examining the potential for a bridge, with a Downing Street spokesman saying when it comes to infrastructure projects Mr Johnson is 'ambitious.'

A bridge across the Irish Sea is certainly ambitious and we know that Mr Johnson is keen on the idea, having previously spoken about it in enthusiastic terms.

More realistic voices point to the hurdles, such as the sheer length involved - 30 miles between Larne and Portpatrick - as well as the anticipated £20 billion cost, not to mention the problem of Beaufort's Dyke, the UK's largest off-shore dump site for munitions after the Second World War.

Mr Johnson is fairly blasé about such concerns. In November 2018, he said: ''The problem is not the undersea Beaufort's Dyke or lack of funds. The problem is an absence of political will.''

Speaking this week, Ian Firth, a fellow at the Institution of Civil Engineers, said there were a huge number of technical challenges to building a bridge but 'anything is possible if you throw enough money at it.'

Some unionists may like the notion of a physical link to Britain but wiser counsel should surely prevail on this issue.

If Mr Johnson's government has plenty of cash to spend then there are many pressing issues in Northern Ireland that need increased funding, including a range of land-based infrastructure projects.

Improving transport links and the sewerage network may not have the same cachet as a spectacular bridge but they would undoubtedly deliver far-reaching economic benefits.

 

 

 

 

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