Northern Ireland news

SNP minister demands urgent talks on £20 billion bridge to Scotland

Several possible routes have been proposed for a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland
Craig Paton, PA

Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has called for urgent talks with the British government over proposals for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland - an idea he described as the prime minister's "vanity project".

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Mr Matheson said he wants to express concern after discussing the proposals outlined earlier this week with his counterpart in the north Nichola Mallon.

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

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for the money to instead be sent to Scotland and Northern Ireland to be spent on infrastructure projects.

She said: "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.

"By spending just a fraction of the reported cost of this bridge, I am of the view that we could bring significantly more benefits to people across the north by investing in infrastructure here and making a real difference to improving the lives of citizens across Northern Ireland."

Read More: Civil servants have started 'proper piece of work' on £20 billion bridge

In his letter, Mr Matheson said there have not been any discussions with the Scottish or Stormont administrations, despite transport being devolved.

He wrote: "I strongly believe that if £20 billion is available for investment in infrastructure in Scotland and Northern Ireland that rather than indulging the prime minister with this vanity project, such funding should be made available to our respective governments so it could be better spent on meeting the priorities of the people we represent.

"I therefore request immediate discussions with your officials on releasing to us the £20 billion of funding you have identified so it can be invested in the priorities of Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"Given transport is devolved to both the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive, I look forward to hearing from you on the availability of the £20 billion to us, and to assurances that in future any such proposals will be discussed with us first and will fully respect the devolved settlements and the role of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament."

Mr Matheson also raised concern about a reported "munitions dump" at Beaufort's Dyke in the Irish Sea, on the path of construction for the proposed bridge, saying money spent to work around the problem "could be put to better use on practical, deliverable projects".

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