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Sir Peter Hendy has commissioned two experts to explore the feasibility of a “fixed link” between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, as part of the government’s Union Connectivity Review.
Hendy’s interim report, which considers the current picture of transport connectivity within the UK, revealed that former HS2 and Crossrail chairman professor Douglas Oakervee and former vice-president of Jacobs Engineering professor Gordon Masterton have been asked to produce a piece of work in conjunction with engineering consultants to assess the feasibility of a link, as well as an outline cost and timescale.
In his report, Hendy said that while devolution has been good for transport where its delivery has been devolved, there has been a “lack of attention” to connectivity between the four nations due to competing priorities and complex funding.
He added that departure from the EU Trans-European Network for Transport as a result of Brexit, provided an opportunity to replace it with a UK scheme with the same objectives.
Among the key concerns Hendy has identified so far are:
- Faster and higher capacity connections for passengers from HS2 to Scotland and north Wales.
- Higher capacity and faster journey times to and from Scotland from England and Wales by rail and road.
- A higher capacity and faster connection on the A75 from the ferry port at Cairnryan to the M6 corridor for freight and passengers to and from Northern Ireland.
- Relief from congestion for the M4 corridor in south Wales.
- Better capacity at Holyhead and connections from Ynys Môn and the north Wales cost to Merseyside and Manchester for freight and passengers
- Improved port capacity, rail and road capacity and journey times east-west across the Midlands and the North.
- Faster and higher capacity connections from Belfast to north west Northern Ireland and to the Republic of Ireland and to link with the Republic’s plans for rail development.
- Better air links to England to and from Northern Ireland and northern Scotland
- Connections to freeports when they are announced by the government and the devolved administrations.
In his report, Hendy said: “I am asked to look forward, to what will be different in the next 20/30 years, and also to take into account the government’s environmental agenda, so my further review will take on board both. Transportation in the UK has opportunities to contribute to the UK’s target of becoming net zero carbon by 2050. That will particularly go to air travel, where I would particularly like to take on board whether, and to what extent, essential domestic air travel can be made carbon neutral.
“I have also been asked specifically about a fixed link between Northern Ireland and
the British mainland. To do this I have asked two experts, professor Douglas Oakervee,
CBE, and professor Gordon Masterton, OBE, to lead a discrete piece of work, using
engineering consultants, to assess the feasibility of such a link, and an outline cost
and timescale for the link and the associated works needed.”
In February last year it emerged that the government had resurrected plans for a bridge linking Scotland and Ireland in an attempt to boost the union after Brexit. Estimates put the cost of a bridge at £20bn. Prime minister Boris Johnson had previously floated the idea when he was foreign secretary, with possible routes including a 20-mile stretch between Portpatrick and Larne, or near Campbelltown to the Antrim cast.
But any such project involves significant challenges, including the need to build around 30 huge support towers in water up to 300m (1,000ft) deep. There are also concerns that the bridge would need to cross the Beaufort Dyke, where 1.5m tonnes of munitions were dumped in 1946 after the second world war, reportedly with no maps of their locations.
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