Northern Ireland news

Civil servants have started 'proper piece of work' on £20 billion bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland

Some of the proposed routes for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland

CIVIL servants have started a "proper piece of work" on a £20 billion bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland, British prime minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman has said.

If taken Mr Johnson gives the go-ahead after a feasibility study into the construction of a combined bridge and tunnel, it would form part of a series of `grand infrastructure projects' which it is understood he is keen to be a legacy of his time in office.

Downing Street said a "range of officials" were looking at the idea, but were unable to say how many are working on it directly.

Work on the "scoping report" is underway, according to a briefing of journalists yesterday and is expected to look at the narrowest gaps between the Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

However, there are still question marks over whether it will ever materialise.

The Garden Bridge project over London's River Thames, which was also strongly supported by then mayor Boris Johnson, ended without being built following an outlay of £53 million, including £43m of public money.

His spokesman reportedly insisted yesterday that the prime minister believes the idea has "merit".

"It's an idea that the prime minister has expressed interest in in the past and, as he said at the time, 'watch this space'."

One version envisages a crossing modelled on the Oresund Bridge, which runs for five miles from the Swedish coast near Malmo to an artificial island in Danish territory.

It was the setting for popular TV detective series `The Bridge'.

Plans for such a link between Scotland and Northern Ireland date back to 1869.

Engineers have been looking at the around 28m stretch between Larne, Co Antrim and Portpatrick on the Rhins of Galloway with a bridge-tunnel split to navigate around Beaufort's Dyke, the UK's largest offshore dump site for conventional and chemical munitions after the Second World War.

The Ministry of Defence estimates there are one million tons of munitions at the bottom of the deep trench, including 14,500 tons of 5in artillery rockets filled with phosgene gas and two tons of metal drums filled with radioactive waste which was dumped there during the 1950s.

The Scottish Government has demanded a "robust assessment of the costs or benefits".

In November 2018, Mr Johnson said the obstacle was not money but "an absence of political will".

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