The idea of a road bridge across the North Channel is being explored in talks between councillors from Northern Ireland and Scotland.
A Scottish council delegation has arrived in Northern Ireland on a two-day visit aimed at boosting economic, cultural and tourism links across the North Channel.
Representatives from Dumfries and Galloway Council are visiting key locations throughout the Mid and East Antrim borough, including The Gobbins cliff path, Carrickfergus and Glenarm castles, Ballygally Castle Hotel, and The Braid Museum and Arts Centre.
The councils will discuss opportunities for greater joined up working on a number of key issues, including improved infrastructure and connectivity.
And as well as exploring building metaphorical bridges between the council areas, both sides have expressed their long-term ambition for a road bridge connecting the two regions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is an “enthusiast” for the idea, which has also been promoted by the DUP.
When asked at a Conservative Party hustings event in NI last month about the financing of such a project, Mr Johnson responded: “With infrastructure projects, finance is not the issue, the issue is political will, the issue is getting the business community to see that this could be something that works for them, the issue is getting popular demand and popular consent for a great infrastructure project, and that is why you need Stormont.”
Last year, one of the UK’s leading architects Professor Alan Dunlop called for the Scottish, Irish, and UK governments to seriously examine the feasibility of a bridge across the channel.
Chair of Mid and East Antrim’s Borough Growth Committee, Councillor Gregg McKeen said the bridge was “definitely an ambition that both areas share”.
He told the News Letter: “We would certainly both be keen for that, but it is obviously a long-term aspiration. It will require national government to come in and see the benefits of it.
“There are spans of water in China much wider than the gap we have where they are building bridges, so it can certainly be done.
“But what we are focusing on is building bridges now between our two areas.
“Our Scottish counterparts have a lot of experience in developing infrastructure, the economy and tourism, and we are keen to learn from that.
“This renewed partnership moves us beyond the original vision for the body. This will focus us on connectivity and infrastructure, and how both areas can benefit from one another’s development.”
The councils are part of the North Channel Partnership Group, a body set up in 1999.
It was established to secure funding and infrastructure for the A8 and the A75, which is yet to be completed.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has described it as a “significant trans-European route which, when completed, will exploit the economic potential for both council areas”.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Maureen Morrow said: “We have strong ties to Scotland, and Dumfries and Galloway, and I am delighted to welcome our visitors to Mid and East Antrim - an area with such a rich and proud Ulster-Scots heritage.
“This visit is all about building on our close relationship and exploring what we can do together to grow our respective economies for the benefit of all our citizens.
“We will also be exchanging ideas and shared learning, and showcasing just some of Mid and East Antrim’s many tourism gems.
“We will be discussing our plans for significant investment locally through Belfast Region City Deal, as well as other ambitious development opportunities we are currently working on.”
Depute Leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, Rob Davidson, said: “This visit presents us with a valuable opportunity to explore future joint working between Mid and East Antrim and our own region. We face many similar challenges in terms of economic regeneration, demographics, and transport infrastructure.
“Both our regions are now part of significant growth deals and the time has never better for us to reinvigorate the North Channel Partnership and examine how we can work together to attract future investment.”
Councillor Archie Dryburgh, Vice Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economy and Resources Committee said: “The statistics show how similar both councils are, with the same issues and industries. There is a strong appetite in Dumfries and Galloway to reinvigorate our North Channel Partnership Group arrangements, to the benefit of both councils and beyond.”