BRIDGE TOO FAR: Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge scrapped over £335bn cost

A1 Scotland-England border
The Union Connectivity Review has looked at transport issues around the UK.

By Bill Heaney

BBC Scotland News is reporting that a major transport review has scrapped the idea of a bridge between Scotland and northern Ireland as too expensive.

Which means that most of us who choose Stena Line or P&O to ferry us across the Irish Sea will continue to have to fork out hundreds of pounds to travel from Cairnryan to Belfast.

This decision has to be added to the many broken promises made by Boris Johnston when the Conservatives lied their way to power at the last General Election.

The Union Connectivity Review found it would cost hundreds of billions of pounds to build a fixed link between the nations.

Improvements to the west coast rail mainline and an upgrade of the A75 in the south of Scotland have been recommended.

The Review also suggests improvements to road and rail on the east coast.

Boris Johnson, who commissioned the research, has invited the Scottish government to work with UK ministers to “take the proposals forward”.

But the Scottish government said UK ministers have no say in investing in Scotland’s trunk roads.

“Transport is devolved to Holyrood and the UK government should respect that,” a Scottish government spokesperson said.

Among the recommendations of Sir Peter Hendy’s independent report are:

  • Upgrading the west coast main line, increasing capacity and cutting journey times between Scotland and London, the Midlands and north-west England
  • The UK and Scottish governments should work together on assessing road and rail from north-east England to south-east Scotland, including improving the east coast main line and the A1
  • Offer the Scottish government new funding to support the upgrade of the A75 Gretna-Stranraer road, making journeys between Northern Ireland and Scotland easier
  • Encourage the Scottish government to improve the A77, which runs from Glasgow to Stranraer, to support journeys between Belfast, Glasgow and Aberdeen
  • Support the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in parts of the country that are particularly reliant on flights

A further recommendation – for a strategic transport network across the UK – has been welcomed by the prime minister who said it would be set up “right away”.

It would map out the strategic locations across the country and plot how best to link them together while also providing extra funding for under-performing areas of the network.

‘Impossible to justify’

The Prime Minister’s vision was for a fixed link to boost connectivity, but it is understood the idea has been scrapped as it would be too expensive and technically challenging.

A feasibility study led by Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy found that a bridge would cost an estimated £335 billion, while a tunnel would be around £209 billion.

Sir Peter said the price of either project “would be impossible to justify” as “the benefits could not possibly outweigh the costs”.

A bridge or tunnel would be the longest structure of their kind ever built and would take 30 years to complete.

The report also said Beaufort’s Dyke – an underwater trench on the most direct route between Scotland and Northern Ireland – would need to be “carefully surveyed” due to a million tons of unexploded munitions being dumped there between the First World War and the 1970s.

A bridge would have a “sacrificial outer layer” enabling its main structure to survive a “local detonation”, the study said.

It emerged earlier this week that the review would advise against proceeding with the proposals due to forecasted costs and engineering challenges.

A75 traffic
There have been calls to upgrade the A75, which links the M6 and ferry port at Cairnryan.

Sir Peter said his recommendations would better connect the whole of the UK and lead to more “growth, jobs, housing and social cohesion”.

There is no mention in the press release of how much the projects would cost.

The prime minister said: “With some of the busiest travel corridors for both passengers and freight, strengthening transport connections between Scotland and the rest of the UK is critical to maximise the potential for growth and jobs.

“Sir Peter Hendy’s review identifies key areas where we can boost rail, road and air links to better support Scottish businesses and communities, and we will work closely with the Scottish government to take these proposals forward in ways that will bring our towns and cities even closer together.”

Westminster transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “There have been times when the SNP government has not been engaging and has instructed officials not to engage with the review but we all live in the same United Kingdom and we all have friends and family and need to transport goods around so I don’t think it should be controversial to improve those links.”

‘Deliver the funding we need’

The Scottish government said it would “seek to engage constructively” on issues like cross-border rail “but UK ministers have no role in deciding investment in Scotland’s trunk roads”.

The spokesman added: “Scottish ministers have not been sighted on the recommendations of the Union Connectivity report, however if UK ministers really want to play a helpful role, then they could simply deliver the funding we need for such infrastructure investment in line with established budgetary mechanisms for Scotland to determine our spending priorities.”

The Scottish government is set to outline its transport priorities in February next year when the first phase of its Strategic Transport Projects Review 2 is due to be published.

Scottish ministers want to balance their environmental “net zero” ambitions with a high quality infrastructure.

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