British Isles fixed sea link connections

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Possible Irish Sea connections

Proposals for fixed sea links to improve transportation between areas of the British isles and Ireland include undersea tunnel, bridge, causeway, or combination of these elements.

Development history of Great Britain/Ireland proposed connections[edit]

Pre-20th Century Proposals[edit]

A 1799 description of a failed proposal for a bridge from Howth to Holyhead is a mocking metaphor for the failure of the Union Bill 1799, which succeeded next year as the Act of Union 1800.[1]

Between 1886 and 1900, proposals for a link to Scotland were "seriously explored by engineers, industrialists, and Unionist politicians".[2] In 1885, Irish Builder and Engineer said a tunnel under the Irish Sea had been discussed "for some time back".[3] In 1890, engineer Luke Livingston Macassey outlined a Stranraer–Belfast link by tunnel, submerged "tubular bridge", or solid causeway.[4] In 1897 a British firm applied for £15,000 towards the cost of carrying out borings and soundings in the North Channel to see if a tunnel between Ireland and Scotland was viable.[5] The link would have been of immense commercial benefit, was significant strategically and would have meant faster transatlantic travel from Britain, via Galway and other Irish ports. When Hugh Arnold-Foster asked in the Commons in 1897 about a North Channel tunnel, Arthur Balfour said "the financial aspects ... are not of a very promising character".[6]

Post-19th Century Proposals[edit]

In 1915, a tunnel was proposed by Gershom Stewart as a defence against a German U-boat blockade of Ireland but dismissed by H. H. Asquith as "hardly practicable in the present circumstances".[7] In 1918, Stewart proposed that German prisoners of war might dig the tunnel; Bonar Law said the Select Committee on Transport could consider the matter.[8]

The Senate of Northern Ireland debated a North Channel Tunnel on 25 May 1954.[9] In 1956 Harford Hyde, Unionist Westminster MP for North Belfast, raised a motion in the UK House of Commons for a tunnel across the North Channel.[10][11] In 1980, John Biggs-Davison suggested European Economic Community involvement in a North Channel tunnel; Philip Goodhart said no tunnel was planned.[12] In 1988, John P. Wilson, the Irish Minister for Tourism and Transport said his department estimated an Irish Sea tunnel would cost twice as much as the English Channel Tunnel and generate one fifth of the revenue, thus being economically unviable.[13] In 1997–8, the Department of Public Enterprise refused to fund a feasibility study requested by Symonds engineering to build an immersed tube tunnel.[14][15] Symonds revived the plan in 2000, with an £8m feasibility study and a £14b construction cost estimate.[14] In 2005, the Minister for Transport said he had not studied A Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050, published in September 2004 by the Irish Academy of Engineering, a report which included a Wexford–Pembroke tunnel.[16]

The proposal of building a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland is supported by members of a number of UK political parties.[17][18] DUP MP Sammy Wilson compared the idea to the approved Channel Tunnel and HS2 projects. The party made a feasibility study into a tunnel or enclosed bridge a precondition to coalition support in the event of a hung parliament in the 2015 election, and again reiterated the potential for a sea bridge in January 2018. [19][20] In January 2018 leading figures in the Democratic Unionist Party revived calls for a bridge or tunnel between Larne in County Antrim and Dumfries and Galloway,[20] the estimated £20 billion cost of the 25-mile project would make it among the biggest infrastructure projects in UK history. The link was proposed by Sammy Wilson, a senior DUP MP, and Simon Hamilton, a former minister for the party in the Stormont administration, who is touted as a future leader.

The idea has been further endorsed, as a potential solution to boost the economies of Scotland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.[21]

2018 Revival[edit]

The idea for a Scotland to Northern Ireland Bridge, sometimes branded in the press as the Celtic Crossing or Irish Sea Bridge, was revived in 2018, by Professor Alan Dunlop at the University of Liverpool.[22] He proposed a combined road and rail crossing between Portpatrick, in Dumfries and Galloway, and Larne in Northern Ireland, stating that "the coastline between each country is more sheltered and the waterway better protected" than the English Channel, where Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had recently proposed a bridge. He suggested that this would create a 'Celtic powerhouse' due to the potential for an increase in trade between the two countries, and the increase in investment from the construction of the project which he put at between £15 billion and £20 billion (a fraction of the £120 billion cost of the proposed bridge over the English Channel).[23][21] Proposals to overcome the problems presented by the Beaufort’s Dyke Trench, if it could not be cleared, include floating the bridge on 500m deep connecting sea orbs connected to the seabed with tension cables, similar to those used on bridges in Norway.[24] Professor Dunlop also suggested that the construction processes used for the Øresund Bridge be looked at as a model for the proposed bridge.[22] The National (a Scottish newspaper) suggested the idea "would be a huge boost to the economies of both countries, opening up trade and putting the otherwise neglected far South West of Scotland in the centre of a major route". It did however also state that "There would have to be massive investment in infrastructure to upgrade the road and rail connections, especially on the Scottish side. [As] The main roads leading to Stranraer are narrow, twisting, and unsuited for the amount of traffic that they currently have, never mind the increased traffic that would be generated by a fixed link. The single rail line from Ayr to Stranraer would have to be upgraded and electrified, and the rail link from Stranraer to Dumfries reinstated". [25] It has also been suggested that such a bridge would be able to link up with the High Speed Rail project between Glasgow and Edinburgh, set to open in 2024, as well as the UKs wider High Speed Rail 2 project, and a possible Belfast to Dublin high speed rail line mooted in 2017.[26][27] A 2007 paper by the Centre for Cross Border Studies had previously suggested that with track upgrades trains would be able to reach in excess of 200mph.[28] Further support has come from the fact that this part of Scotland has a large number of established ports and harbours, meaning it could form an epicenter for trade to America, Canada, the Caribbean and Scandinavia for both Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the UK, Ireland and Europe more generally. Commentators in the i newspaper also suggested that such a bridge would have the potential to create a "tourism corridor" between Northern Ireland and Scotland.[29]

The project was first endorsed in late February 2018 by Scottish Brexit Minister Michael Russell MSP, who when addressing the Republic of Ireland's Seanad joint committee on European Union affairs stated that "I think it’s a great idea, it would open up my constituency and that’s a good headline to see. There is a lot of talking to be done about that but I think it is important that talking starts. I know recent coverage indicates that it should happen". [30] In February 2018, The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, publicly called for a feasibility study into the bridge during an address at Chatham House following a meeting with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, suggesting it was a means of nurturing the relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland, despite the challenges presented.[31]

By March 2018 the idea appeared to have the full support of the Scottish government, with a spokesman telling the BBC that it intended to "initiate discussions" on the bridge with both parties in Belfast, and the government of Ireland.[32] and that Transport Scotland officials would be conducting talks with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. [33] Mike Russell MSP said he had been in touch with Professor Alan Dunlop to discuss the bridge, claiming that "A bridge, together with better road links to the central belt, would open up Argyll in a dramatic new way" and that he was "keen to see public bodies investigate the feasibility of such a link". He went on to claim that Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Transport Scotland were willing to contribute funds towards a feasibility study.[34]

By April 2018 the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim had extended an invite, on behalf of the council, to the relevant bodies in the government to further explore Larne as the possible end site for the bridge. The Mayor cited the short distance to Belfast, as well as the counties extensive film, tourism and leisure industries as reasons for consideration. [35] On the 25th of April 2018 Ards and North Down Borough Council voted to write to the Scottish government, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the Department for Infrastructure requesting the east coast of the Borough also be considered as a possible end site for the bridge. The councils official opposition had objected to the request, claiming that the council should instead support the claim of neighboring county Mid and East Antrim, as they believe the infrastructure already exists in Larne, while Donaghadee would be unprepared for the impact of such a bridge.[36] The Belfast Telegraph suggested that this was reminiscent of ancient rivalries between the local ports. [37] A spokesman for the Scottish government suggested that speculation on possible impacts on specific sites was premature as the project, including the design for the crossing, was still in its early stages.[38] A spokesman for the Scottish government had previously stated that “Given the scale of any such fixed link, it is important that all options are fully considered”.[39]

By July 2018 the bridge appeared to have gained cross party support, with the UK's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson joining politicians from Scotland and Ireland to offer public support for the bridge, calling for the project to be given more serious attention in early June.[40][22] While by July, Arlene Foster, leader of the junior partner in the Conservative-DUP Confidence and Supply government, also conceded that there appeared to be growing support for the bridge.[41]

Proposed fixed sea links between Great Britain & Ireland[edit]

North Channel (Galloway) route[edit]

This route has been proposed variously as either a tunnel or a bridge.[42] A 2010 report by the Centre for Cross Border Studies estimated building a bridge from Galloway to Ulster would cost just under £20.5 billion.[43] The proposal would see passengers board trains in Glasgow then cross on the bridge via Stranraer and alight in Belfast or Dublin. A longer bridge already exists between Shanghai and Ningbo in East China. Some political parties in Northern Ireland have included the bridge in their manifesto for some time.[44] However, because of the Beaufort's Dyke sea trench, this route would be deeper than the southern routes. The sea trench was also used for dumping munitions after World War II and so would require an expensive clean up operation.[43] Ronnie Hunter, former chairman of the Institute of Civil Engineers Scotland, suggested that the project was a "stretch but doable". He cited the lack of "soft rock, the chalk and sandstone" as a challenge compared to the construction of the Channel Tunnel.[44] He also suggested that the change in rail gauge between Ireland and Britain might pose further concerns. It is believed[by whom?] that such a project was considered by railway engineer Luke Livingston Macassey in the 1890s as "a rail link using either a tunnel, a submerged "tubular bridge" or a solid causeway".[45] This appears to be the most commonly proposed location for such a crossing.

North Channel (Kintyre) route[edit]

This is the shortest route at around 19 km (12 mi), from the Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim.[46][47]

Irish Mail route[edit]

This route (from Dublin to Holyhead in Anglesey, Wales) would be about 68 km (42 mi) long.[46]

Tuskar route[edit]

The Institution of Engineers of Ireland's 2004 Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050 imagines a tunnel to be built between the ports of Fishguard and Rosslare[48] along with a new container port on the Shannon Estuary, linking a freight line to Europe. This report also includes ideas for a BelfastDublinCork high-speed train, and for a new freight line from Rosslare to Shannon. This route would be approximately twice the distance of the English Channel Tunnel at over 100 km (roughly 60 miles long).

Proposed & existing fixed sea links between Great Britain & France[edit]

Channel Tunnel[edit]

Existing Channel Tunnel
  • The Channel Tunnel operates between Great Britain & France. It is a 50.45-kilometre (31.35 mi) rail tunnel linking Folkestone, Kent, in the United Kingdom, with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais in northern France, beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. At its lowest point, it is 75 m (250 ft) deep. At 37.9 kilometres (23.5 mi), the tunnel has the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world, although the Seikan Tunnel in Japan is both longer overall at 53.85 kilometres (33.46 mi) and deeper at 240 metres (790 ft) below sea level. The speed limit for trains in the tunnel is 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph).[49]

Second Channel Tunnel or Bridge[edit]

  • A second English channel tunnel with a road was proposed in 2000 by Eurotunnel,[50] the motorway beneath the sea to link Britain and France could be built in the next 25 years under proposals. The ambitious project would involve the construction of the longest road tunnel in the world, containing two 46 km-long carriageways, one on top of the other, which would allow motorists to complete the journey in about 30 minutes.
  • An English Channel road bridge was proposed in 2018 by former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson, however with limited success.[51]

Channel Islands Tunnel[edit]

  • The Channel Islands Tunnel was a proposed tunnel between Jersey and Lower Normandy. In July 2009, it was revealed[by whom?] that the States of Jersey were considering the feasibility of building a 14 miles (23 km) long tunnel to connect the island with Lower Normandy in France; the tunnel would be a concrete tube sunk in the seabed and then covered over. Talks would be held[by whom?] in September 2009 to ascertain whether it would be of local benefit. The proposition included a road and rail link. The plans were not developed, and the then Assistant Minister for Planning and Environment Deputy Rob Duhamel who had suggested the idea lost his seat in the 2014 elections.[52][53][54]

Other proposed fixed sea links within or to the British Isles & associated areas[edit]

  • A possible Orkney tunnel between Scotland and Orkney (about 9–10 miles or 15–16 km) was publicly discussed especially around 2005,[55] but also at other times.
  • A bridge from mainland England to the Isle of Wight has been proposed a number of times, often due to the high cost of ferries to and from the island. The Isle of Wight Party - a political party active only in the Isle of Wight - was set up with the intention of campaigning for a fixed crossing. Critics have suggested that such a link may damage the ecology of the Isle of Wight, particularly the red squirrel population.[57] Campaign group Pro-Link has put forward a number of plans to the Isle of Wight Infrastructure Task Force of the Isle of Wight council, including a £1.2 billion four mile long dual-carriageway tunnel in the Solent between Whippingham on the island and Gosport, Hants.[58] The campaign group has proposed the project be initially run on a toll basis, but that it would have paid for itself after eighteen years. In 2017 Abel Connections Ltd released their plans for the project, "to create a new north-south axis through the centre of the Solent region by constructing a tunnel from the M27 east of junction 9 to the Whippingham roundabout on the Isle of Wight, with an additional access intersection ‘cut and cover’ portal near the mainland coast between Browndown and Meon." [59]
  • In 2008 the Liverpool Echo ran an article suggesting the construction of a 75-mile (121 km) bridge to the Isle of Man from Liverpool. Despite the proposal being nothing more than an April Fools joke, the bridge was included in an engineering text book called the "Handbook of International Bridge Engineering" in its 2017 print.[60]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Hughes, Kyle (2013-12-01). The Scots in Victorian and Edwardian Belfast: A Study in Elite Migration. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 128, fn.39. ISBN 9780748679935. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
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  5. ^ "Tunnel Under the Sea", The Washington Post, 2 May 1897 (Archive link)
  6. ^ "TUNNEL (IRELAND AND SCOTLAND)". Hansard. 22 March 1897. pp. HC Deb vol 47 cc1125–6. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "IRISH CHANNEL TUNNEL". Hansard. 23 February 1915. pp. HC Deb vol 70 c168. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "TUNNEL TO IRELAND". HC Deb vol 110 c594. 22 October 1918. p. Hansard. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
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  50. ^ Millar, Stuart (6 January 2000). "Tunnel chiefs unveil road link to France" – via The Guardian. 
  51. ^ No 10 unenthusiastic about Boris Johnson's Channel bridge plan (19 Jan 2018 )
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  60. ^ Hughes, Lorna (14 April 2017). "Fictional Liverpool-Isle of Man bridge included in engineering textbook". Retrieved 24 June 2018.