Northern Ireland news

Boris Tunnel scrapped

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

SDLP minster Nichola Mallon has welcomed the scrapping of the 'Boris Tunnel' to Scotland and called for the money to be spent on "turbocharging" Northern Ireland's infrastructure.

The British government had committed £20 million towards planning for new transport links between the UK regions - including the Scotland to Northern Ireland tunnel which has now been scrapped.

Described by government sources as now "dead", the route had already been thrown into doubt as early as this May when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested an alternative 80km tunnel to connect Ireland and Wales, with Holyhead to Dublin mooted as a more realistic option.

Civil engineers have suggested the second route would reduce landside infrastructure costs, helped by a relatively shallow water depth.

However, briefings from the Treasury have indicated it has been taken off the table completely by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as one of a number of projects he has withdrawn funding for before next month's planned Budget.

Originally announced by Boris Johnson as a bridge project and recently branded the "world's stupidest tunnel" by former prime ministerial aide Dominic Cummings and "fantasy" by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, it would have cost up to £15 billion.

Nicola Sturgeon said: "If you've got £20 billion available to build a bridge, I'm pretty sure me and I'm sure equally the First Minister of Northern Ireland would be able to find things to spend that on right now that actually would be really useful to accelerate the progress to net-zero".

However, it was heavily backed by unionists, with DUP MP Sammy Wilson saying "we expect the space between Scotland and Northern Ireland to be filled - at some stage in the future with a physical link", something dismissed by Alliance leader Naomi Long as a "giant unionist umbilical cord".

A Department of Transport spokesman insisted yesterday "boosting connectivity across the UK and improving transport infrastructure are at the heart of our levelling up agenda" and said the government still plans to fully assess a feasibility study.

"We asked Sir Peter Hendy to lead a Union Connectivity Review to look at future transport priorities, based on the wider strategic case for investment and the benefit it will bring to people and businesses across the UK.

"On the back of his interim report in March, we have committed £20m to develop plans that can assess options on road and rail schemes.

"We're now looking forward to his final recommendations ahead of the Spending Review, where we will consider and confirm funding plans for delivering improved connectivity between all parts of the UK."

It is Boris Johnson's second expensive failed plan to build a bridge, one he launched while London mayor as a tree and flower-covered crossing of the River Thames was scrapped despite an unrecoverable outlay of £53m.

Infrastructure minister, Ms Mallon said: “I welcome that commons sense has now prevailed and there will be no more time wasted chasing the £20bn vanity bridge that Boris Johnson was proposing. Now that this distraction is out of the way, the British Government needs to make good on the commitments that they have made to people under New Decade New Approach to provide the long promised funding to allow us to turbocharge our infrastructure, to better connect our communities and to tackle the climate emergency.”

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