£50 billion bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland under review
By World Infrastructure Journal-
A feasibility review has begun on the ‘Celtic Crossing’ between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Long debated, the link between the two nations is now one step closer. Boris Johnson gave the review approval to go ahead as part of the Union Connectivity Review.
Led by Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy, this is looking at improving connections between and within the four UK nations. After just publishing his interim report, he has commissioned two experts to lead the feasibility review: Douglas Oakervee, former HS2 and Crossrail Chairman along with Gordon Masterton, ex-Vice President of Jacobs Engineering.
Various options have been raised as a potential connector. One suggestion is a bridge similar to that of the Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary however, suggested that a tunnel would be more likely. Less prone to adverse weather conditions and the success of the similar-distance Channel tunnel makes this a very likely alternative to the bridge.
It is not yet known where the crossing will be situated but the most feasible option is between Larne and Portpatrick. Engineer Alan Dunlop who has studied this project before suggested that while it is more practical than other potential links, its connections to Belfast and Scotland’s Central Belt also make it an attractive option.
This 26 mile distance is already an engineering challenge but there are added problems which would make this an extraordinary feat to achieve. The sea bed which reaches 160 metres would make it the deepest tunnel or bridge in the world. This path would also go through Beaufort’s Dyke, an explosive disposal area which was used as a munitions drop after WW2.
Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim which includes the coastal link of Larne said to the World Infrastructure Journal: “I welcome the decision by Sir Peter that the physical link between NI and GB should be moved to the next stage for a feasibility study. Connectivity within the UK is important and as a nation we should be promoting visionary infrastructure projects which improve the cohesion of the nation., promote the economic objective of levelling up across the UK economy and deal with the impediments to productivity improvements across the country.
The investment in the A5 an important arterial route for traffic to NI and the prospect of a fixed link most probably a tunnel is important news for this part of the UK. The technical issues can be dealt with and we should have confidence in our engineering abilities the question is whether there is the political vision and the financial commitment. Many major projects such as this are judged on criterion which goes beyond the economic viability. Most of the rail, canal and even road infrastructure which we have across the UK would not be built if it had been judged solely on economic criterion. The feasibility study needs to look at the wider issues. The one thing I am certain of is that this link can be built if there is the political commitment to do it. ”
Others have not been as optimistic about the physical link and the recent announcement has been labelled as a “vanity project for Boris Johnson” by some Northern Ireland leaders. In some estimations, the project could cost as much as £50 billion and many have criticised it is as an ineffective use of funds.
House of Commons SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said “the Prime Minister’s fantasy bridge to Northern Ireland could cost £33 billion. This while our road and rail networks have been absolutely decimated from decades of underinvestment. ”
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon similarly said that there was a better use of resources and it is not currently a priority for Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Mr Shapps has been adamant however that this would be positive for the whole of the UK: "I understand that it is not the responsibility of the Scottish First Minister to connect the United Kingdom together. The Scottish First Minister doesn’t even believe we should be in a United Kingdom. So I understand her perspective but I think it is wrong.
Why would you ever be against connecting different parts of our country in a better way? It shouldn’t be a controversial thought at all. ”
While it still remains a controversial and fiercely debated political decision, it is the engineering industry who will have to deliver the project. If the government is serious about investing and levelling up skills and industry then this represents a significant opportunity to become an engineering world-leader.
“This would be a challenging proposition” said Engineer Mr Dunlop “but we have the technology and the talent in Ireland and Scotland to create something as potentially brilliant as this. ”
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