Thursday, 22 Oct 2020

Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge: Review to look into idea – but what are the main challenges?

Could a bridge or tunnel actually be built between Scotland and Northern Ireland?

It’s an idea that has been suggested several times by Boris Johnson and will now be looked at as part of a national review into UK transport connections.

The study will investigate the feasibility of a fixed link between the two nations including cost, practicality and demand.

But some critics have already dismissed the idea as impractical, arguing the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Mr Johnson has previously put a price of “about £15bn” on building a bridge which could stretch from Portpatrick in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland – a distance of more than 20 miles across the Irish Sea.

The Oresund bridge, which is a 10 mile-long road and rail link between Sweden and Denmark, is viewed as an inspiration for the potential UK crossing.

Structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth said the idea has a “huge number of technical challenges” but that it “ought to be possible” even though it would be “eye wateringly expensive”.

Mr Firth, a fellow at the Institution of Civil Engineers, said in February of a potential bridge: “My own feeling is that it ought to be possible because at the end of the day it’s about money – anything is possible if you throw enough money at it.”

Among the challenges he listed, aside from economic and political hurdles, are very deep water, the risk of a ship hitting the bridge and an underwater munitions dump in the sea.

In March, politicians from Scotland and Northern Ireland told Transport Secretary Grant Shapps the billions of pounds a fixed link across the Irish Sea would cost could be better spent on vital infrastructure projects.

And a spokesperson for the UK Chamber of Shipping said the money should go towards improving road and rail links to UK ports.

They said: “There are already a range of ferry operators taking tourists and trade between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“Spending £15bn-£20bn of taxpayers’ money on a bridge simply to replicate what those ferries already do is unnecessary.”

The transport study, led by Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, will set out advice on a “wide range of possible options” to improve the quality and availability of links across the UK, Downing Street said.

Downing St said the Hendy review will also look at the feasibility of various other options designed to boost links to Scotland and Wales, including improving major roads like the A1.

Announcing the review, Mr Johnson said: “The United Kingdom is the greatest political partnership the world has ever seen and we need transport links between our nations that are as strong as our historic bonds.”

The review comes after he pledged £100m on 29 road projects in July as he set out how to kickstart the economy following the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Peter, who ran London’s transport network during the Olympics in 2012, said: “Improving links across the UK on the basis of the wider economic benefits that increased investment will deliver will be of benefit to everyone in the UK.”

He is set to publish his recommendations next summer.

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