Boris says ‘no’ to Mid and East Antrim Union Connectivity Working Group meeting

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has turned down an invitation to meet Mid and East Antrim’s Union Connectivity Working Group.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 2:35 pm

In a letter to the local authority, Robin Walker MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland indicated that the Prime Minister was unable to attend a virtual meeting with the council group.

The council’s chief executive Anne Donaghy had written to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in June regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Union Connectivity Review.

The purpose of this review is to examine how best to improve road, rail, air and sea links between all four UK regions and to bring forward funding to accelerate major infrastructure projects.

Port of Larne

The Prime Minister has highlighted the potential development of a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

An interim report on the Union Connectivity Review has been published by Sir Peter Hendy who has been asked to assess the feasibility of a fixed transport link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and will “focus on the technical viability of such a construction”.

“The Union Connectivity Review has the the potential to press the fast forward button on signficant economic growth and prosperity in Northern Ireland and right across the UK”, elected representatives in Mid and East Antrim have said.

The report acknowledges a number of key concerns including the need for a “higher capacity and faster connection” on the A75 in Scotland from the ferry port at Cairnryan to the M6 corridor in England for freight passengers to and from Northern Ireland.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is part of a North Chanel Partnership body which is comprised of councillors and officers from the Scottish council and the local authority that is working with other bodies including ferry companies to progress shared interests such as ports and infrastructure including a long-awaited upgrade of the A75/77 routes in Scotland which the local authority believes would also be of benefit economically to Mid and East Antrim.

Mr Walker said that he would be willing to “continue discussions” with councillors following publication of Sir Peter’s final report which is expected this summer.

Councillors have also been advised that there has been no decision yet on a Freeport for Northern Ireland.

The council has also written to Finance Minister Conor Murphy urging him to progress discussions with HM Treasury for a Northern Ireland Freeport. The local authority has expressed an interest in being the location for a Freeport post Brexit and submitted a response to the UK’s consultation on Freeports last July.

Eight new Freeports in England have already been announced by the Government and are expected to be in operation by the end of this year. Freeports will benefit from simplified customs procedures, duty suspension on goods and a package of tax reliefs. Sites can be located inland as well as adjacent to ports.

A letter from Sir Peter Hendy to the borough council stated that the UK Government is “working with the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver a Freeport in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible”.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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