Scrapped Scotland-NI bridge ‘would cost £335bn’

A bridge or tunnel proposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to connect Scotland and Northern Ireland has been scrapped after an assessment found that it would cost hundreds of billions of pounds and take many decades to build.

The Prime Minister previously enthused about the possibility of a fixed transport connection between Scotland and Northern Ireland, arguing that it would boost connectivity.

The feasibility study, commissioned by Johnson and led by Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy, concluded that the project would cost billions of pounds, present serious technical challenges, and take a generation to build.

A bridge would cost an estimated £335bn while a tunnel would cost £209bn, the report said. Either structure would be the longest of their kind ever built. The cost “would be impossible to justify,” Sir Peter concluded, stating “the benefits could not possibly outweigh the costs.” The structure would take nearly 30 years to negotiate planning, design, parliamentary and legal processes, and construction, the feasibility study found.

The research noted that Beaufort’s Duke – an underwater trench on the most direct Scotland-Northern Ireland route – would need to be “carefully surveyed” due to approximately a million tonnes of unexploded munitions having been dropped there between WW1 and the 1970s. The bridge would also require a “sacrificial” outer layer that would enable the core structure to survive explosions.

Sir Peter said it is “technically feasible” to construct, maintain, and operate a tunnel or bridge. However, he recommended that no further work should be expended on account of the cost involved.

The research also found that the construction project would be responsible for considerable carbon dioxide emissions. The least carbon-intensive option (a narrow tunnel) would generate 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 while the most carbon-intensive option (a large bridge) would generate 18.4 million tonnes.

In a foreword to the study, Sir Peter said: “Whilst the economic and social effects would be transformational, the costs would be impossible to justify, given the government’s already very significant commitment to long-term transport infrastructure improvement for levelling up, and the further likely significant expenditure that would result from the further studies I am suggesting in my main report.”

The conclusion is part of a wider assessment carried out by Sir Peter: The Union Connectivity Review [PDF]. It makes recommendations that could improve transport connectivity across the UK. The main recommendation is for the establishment of a multi-modal transport network (UKNET) that would map out strategic locations and plot how to link them, while providing funding for underperforming areas of the network. Johnson has pledged to create this body “right away”.

“If we want to truly level up the country, then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places, more quickly,” said Johnson. “Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport which we will now consider carefully.

“Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail, and road links – not only bringing us closer together, but boosting jobs, prosperity, and opportunity.”

Other recommendations include: upgrading the West Coast Main Line north of Crewe; funding the upgrade of the A75 to improve journeys between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; upgrading and building new stations on the South Wales Main Line; upgrading the rail on the Northern Ireland corridor; and cutting domestic aviation tax. The recommendations encourage close cooperation with the devolved governments to improve transport links between the constituent countries of the UK.

“My recommendations provide comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom, leading to more growth, jobs, housing and social cohesion,” said Sir Peter. “I welcome the enthusiasm shown by the Prime Minister and the government to my final report and I look forward to their formal response to my recommendations, which aim to spread opportunity and prosperity right across the United Kingdom.”

A Scottish government spokesperson commented: “Transport is devolved to Holyrood and the UK government should respect that. We will always seek to engage constructively with the UK Government… but UK ministers have no role in deciding investment in Scotland’s trunk roads. 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.”

Earlier this year, Holyrood’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said that plans to build a bridge or tunnel linking Scotland with Northern Ireland were not a priority.

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