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Linking the union: Is the ‘Boris Bridge’ feasible?

With the announcement of a feasibility study into a ‘permanent link’ between Scotland and Northern Ireland, will the so-called ‘Boris Bridge’ improve inter-nation connectivity? Is a fixed crossing even feasible? And is there a public need?

The High-Speed Rail Group has proposed a tunnel between England and Northern Ireland, based on the Channel Tunnel, that would slash travel times to the island of Ireland. Belfast would be just four hours from London, and Dublin just six hours from the capital. The tunnel is part of a wider proposal that would see journey times to Glasgow and Edinburgh reduced to just under three hours.

The tunnel would run from Carlisle to Belfast, with the English border town acting as a hub for lorries. The proposal could be considered as part of the Union Connectivity Review being headed by Sir Peter Hendy, the Network Rail chairman.

Bridge or tunnel?

While the Boris Bridge has been branded a vanity project, the will to create some kind of link between the four countries of the union is gaining speed. While a number of practical obstacles remain, not least a munitions dump and a sea floor depth of 1,000 feet, a team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh are examining the feasibility of using SFTB [submerged floating tube bridge] technology to bridge the North Sea.

 

Described as ‘very exciting’, the proposal for a proposed tube sunk 50m below the surface has the potential to revolutionise the way long distance sea travel is tackled. Prime Minister Johnson also seems to be throwing his weight behind the proposal as the more feasible solution to linking the islands.

A long term project

Proposals to link Scotland and Northern Ireland stretch back to the 1890s, and the idea resurfaced in the 2015 DUP manifesto. The immediate concern is whether there may be more immediate priorities for investment in the Dumfries and Galloway region, the proposed site of a bridge.

But is there a need for a fixed connection? In a recent survey conducted by ICE, 78% of travellers from Northern Ireland rated travel flows to Great Britain as very easy. Forty-six per cent of travellers from GB agreed that travel between the different parts of the UK was easy to do.

That could mean that the undeniable expense of building a fixed connection between the two islands would be a difficult sell to the public, even in the aftermath of Covid travel restrictions.

Union connectivity review

The government has tasked Sir Peter Hency with looking at the quality and availability of transport provision across the whole of the UK and areas where future infrastructure investment should be targeted.

The final review will consider projects designed to improve connectivity, social cohesion and quality of life plus their greater impact on the economic growth of the UK, its nations and regions. The role of new technologies and the environmental impacts of infrastructure projects is also under review.

Whether or not the review comes down on the side of a bridge, tunnel or no fixed link, the interim report is considering the current state of transport connectivity in the UK, and an outline of the assessment methodology which will be used to deliver Sir Peter’s final recommendations.

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