Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) is to make a fresh bid for the completion of a key economic route through fresh links with Scotland.
The council is to join forces with Dumfries and Galloway Council through the new North Channel Partnership, to progress upgrades of two of Scotland’s busiest trunk roads.
MEABC has agreed to support attempts to secure funding by lobbying governments at Downing Street, Edinburgh and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Dumfries and Galloway Council has been invited to meet with MEA Mayor Councillor Maureen Morrow, Councillor Gregg McKeen, chairman of the Borough Growth Committee and East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting of council, chief executive Anne Donaghy said: “This is a really big opportunity for us to put forward to the Prime Minister a growth deal between Northern Ireland and Scotland. To really grow the A8 into an economic corridor, for that to happen, we need to have infrastructure between England and Scotland. The A75 is a barrier to that.”
Currently, more than 100 miles from Stranraer to Gretna is mostly single carriageway. The council has stated that both the A75 and A77 have suffered from lack of investment.
The chief executive also spoke of the need to work with officials on both sides of the Irish Sea, including Stormont ministers and the need to “move on at speed”.
Cllr McKeen emphasised the importance of upgrading the A75, which he described as a “transport corridor to England” for the economy of Mid and East Antrim and Northern Ireland. He said a bridge between Larne and Scotland may be something to “aspire to” but “it is really about building bridges”.
Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly, who is also a member of the North Channel Partnership, added: “This road is a very important part of the jigsaw for the economic corridor.”
Last month, chief executive Anne Donaghy was invited by Dumfries and Galloway Councillor William Scobie to engage with A75/A77 action groups which are lobbying for improvements.
A partnership with Dumfries and Galloway was renewed by MEA last year with the aim of developing economic and social links. Meanwhile, ferry operators P&O and Stena have given a cautious welcome to the Scottish Government’s South West Scotland Transport Study.
Stena Line. P&O Ferries and Belfast Harbour say they are “optimistic that government understands the need for continuous improvements to the A75 and A77”.
The coalition consisting of Stena Line, P&O Ferries and Belfast Harbour, which has been campaigning for improvements to the A75 and A77 in the south west of Scotland, have issued a joint response to the transport study.
They have cautiously welcomed its findings, but have also called for more impetus ahead of the second Strategic Transport Projects Review – the 20-year framework used in Scotland to decide on transport priorities.
The response follows a series of meetings over several months which the ferry operators believe have shown that the government understands the urgent need to radically improve the roads.
The coalition has emphasised, however, that governments have for decades made assurances about improvements to the A75 and A77 without subsequent action, and now expects the next step to include a set of feasibility studies which culminate in a detailed set of proposals.
The three organisations in the coalition will now work with other stakeholders to create evidence which furthers the case for a continuous programme of improvements including partial dualling, bypassing and other initiatives for faster and safer alternatives.
Andy Kane, Stena Line’s Operations manager, Irish Sea North and Craig Rennie, Port manager, P&O Ferries Cairnryan, said: “These proposals from the Scottish Government deserve a cautious welcome.
“We need to reverse the drift of passengers, tourists and hauliers from Loch Ryan and Cairnryan to Liverpool and Holyhead, and we are optimistic based on our discussions over several months that the Scottish Government understands the need for a continuous programme of improvements to the A75 and A77 in order to achieve that.
“However, we will be continuing our liaison and watching the next steps closely. We have had a lot of words for a lot of years from a lot of governments, and now we need to see some action. We need a 21st century road network to service what are 21st century ports, and we are very far behind.
“We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Scottish Government, which will focus on cementing the case for rapid action and creating a detailed set of timebound proposals to offer hope and certainty to the people and businesses of the south west of Scotland.”
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter.