Boris Johnson revives Scotland-Ireland bridge dream under building plan
Boris Johnson’s dream of a bridge linking Scotland and Northern Ireland is among the projects being considered as part of a drive for the UK to “build, build, build” its way out of the coronavirus economic downturn.
In a speech today, the Prime Minister will set out plans for a “New Deal” including billions of pounds worth of infrastructure spending to boost the economy as it limps out of lockdown.
The UK Government will conduct a review into cross-border transport links that could help stimulate growth – with Downing Street highlighting the proposed 20-mile bridge suggested by Mr Johnson during the Tory leadership campaign.
Proposals to extend the Borders Railway to Carlisle, linking it with the West Coast mainline, could also be accelerated.
The Prime Minister will announce he is bringing forward £5 billion of infrastructure spending in England targeting hospital maintenance, school refurbishment, and road projects. He will urge devolved administrations to identify ‘shovel-ready’ projects that can benefit from existing capital spending allocated through the Barnett formula.
But there will be no new funding for Edinburgh confirmed in today’s speech, as the projects earmarked for acceleration have already been announced.
And future transport links between Scotland and the rest of the UK identified by the review are also likely to bypass the Barnett formula and be funded by London, in partnership with the Scottish Government.
Comparing his announcement to the recovery plan championed by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Mr Johnson is expected to say: “It sounds like a New Deal. All I can say is that if so, then that is how it is meant to sound and to be, because that is what the times demand.
“A government that is powerful and determined and that puts its arms around people at a time of crisis this is a government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades... To that end we will build, build, build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires.”
The Prime Minister will add: “Too many parts of this country have felt left behind, neglected, unloved, as though someone had taken a strategic decision that their fate did not matter as much as the metropolis.
“So I want you to know that this government not only has a vision to change this country for the better, we have a mission to unite and level up - the mission on which we were elected last year.”
A bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland would cost between £15-20bn, and face significant engineering obstacles including a munitions dump in the Beaufort Dyke, a deep trench beneath the Irish Sea.
The Scottish Government has dismissed the suggestion as a “vanity project”, and it is opposed by many local politicians in southwest Scotland - but has been backed by the local MP, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.
The BBC reported earlier this month that no feasibility study has been commissioned by the UK Government.
Downing Street said the Scottish Government would be urged to spend the £5.4bn of capital funding already allocated through the Barnett this financial year.
The UK Government will work with the devolved administrations to identify shovel-ready projects in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Amid growing concern that unemployment could hit levels last seen in the 1980s, Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are also expected to make new announcements on supporting jobs and skills.
Labour’s shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the government’s focus should be on avoiding a wave of redundancies when coronavirus support schemes start to be wound down.
“Unemployment has climbed to its highest level in a generation, and our country is suffering the worst economic hit of all industrialised nations,” Ms Dodds said.
“We urgently need the Conservatives to abandon their ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the economic support schemes, which will inevitably lead to additional unemployment.
“And we need concrete action and a laser-like focus preventing further job losses and supporting future employment.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on the Prime Minister to use his speech to announce new borrowing and spending powers demanded by the Scottish Government, saying they were the “essential key to Scotland’s economic recovery”.
“Scotland can make different choices to protect jobs, strengthen our economy and build a fairer society.”
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