Long-term investment in south west Scotland’s transport routes is essential if the area is to remain competitive, which is why MSP Brian Whittle took his campaign over to Northern Ireland.
During the Scottish Parliament’s February recess the South Scotland Conservative MSP travelled to Belfast to meet political and business leaders.
The lack of dual carriageways, risks of long diversions during road closures and slower speed limits through towns and villages make it difficult for drivers on the A77 and A75 to be sure how long the journey will take, which is a problem for hauliers using the Stena Line and P&O operated ferry link from south west Scotland to Northern Ireland.
Mr Whittle met with members of the Northern Ireland Executive - including Sinn Fein, the DUP, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party - as well as Tourism Northern Ireland representatives, the Northern Ireland Institute of Directors, Belfast Harbour Commission, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and representatives of the larger haulage companies who use the Cairnryan-Belfast or Cairnryan-Larne routes.
Roads like the A77 and A75 aren’t just vital to local communities and businesses, they make a significant contribution to the economies of Scotland and Northern Ireland and following his visit, Mr Whittle is determined to make the Scottish Government see the sense in improving south west Scotland’s transport links.
He said: “The economic ties between Scotland and Northern Ireland have long benefited both our nations and it’s clear from the discussions I’ve had that there’s a genuine desire in Northern Ireland to see those ties strengthened. Regardless of political affiliation, every politician I spoke to in Northern Ireland saw the need for investment in south west Scotland and the opportunities it could bring for their constituents in Northern Ireland.
“Anyone who has ever travelled to Belfast or Larne from Cairnryan will understand that the quality of the roads is very different on the other side of the Irish Sea. Travellers coming from Scotland come off the ferry and find themselves on dual carriageway more quickly than those coming from Northern Ireland, who have to deal with the twisting single carriageway of the A77 or A75.
“As well as putting off leisure travellers, it means hauliers can have increased costs and customers are frustrated by delays because deliveries get stuck in traffic or are sent on long diversion routes.
“From growing the tourism industry to strengthening the supply chains that food retailers rely on, there are huge arguments for investment in the south west’s infrastructure and better connecting Scotland to Northern Ireland.
“All the organisations I spoke to were positive about the benefits that stronger links between Scotland and Northern Ireland could bring and are keen to see progress as soon as possible. It’s vital the Scottish Government commits to a long term programme of investment in the region’s road and rail network. If they don’t, they risk choking off opportunities for economic growth rather than making the most of them.”