Proposed British Isles fixed sea link connections

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Possible Irish Sea connections

There have been a number of proposed fixed connections—road or rail, bridge or tunnel—connecting the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, as well as other smaller islands in the British Isles.

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

Pre-20th century proposals[edit]

The failure of the Union Bill 1799 (which succeeded, the next year, as the Act of Union 1800) prompted a satirical description of a proposal by "architect" William Pitt "to build a bridge from Holyhead to the Hill of Howth."[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]

20th century[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 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]

21st century[edit]

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 mi (40 km) 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.

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

Late 2010s "Celtic Crossing"[edit]

Proposals[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 Øresund bridge had by 2018 provided an £10bn return on its initial investment (But it has 3 million people living within 25 miles from either end of the bridge, and North Channel does not have this population).[25] 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. 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".[26] It has been suggested that the A75 road would need to be upgraded to handle the additional traffic, however the Scottish government and Department for Transport had already received local requests to hold consultation on upgrading this road.[27][28]

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 UK‘s wider High Speed Rail 2 project, and a possible Belfast to Dublin high speed rail line mooted in 2017.[29][30] 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 200 mph (320 km/h).[31]

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.[32] Professor Dunlop has also noted the similarities between such a bridge and the Norwegian Coastal Highway, which forms a 680 mile route crossing 20 fjords between Kristiansand and Trondheim, with 9 ferries but suggested to be using floating bridges and tunnels at a cost of around £30bn.[33] Senior economist Esmond Birnie at the University of Ulster claimed that "Recent economic theory has emphasised the advantages of "agglomeration" arising from faster, cheaper transport: bigger and better labour markets and increased networking between firms" and put the annual benefit from the bridge in the hundreds of millions.[34] It has also been suggested that with increasing demand for travel between Great Britain and the island of Ireland (London to Dublin being the busiest air route in Europe), that the bridge could have a positive environmental impact by reducing the demand for flights.[35]

Development[edit]

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".[36] 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.[37]

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.[38] and that Transport Scotland officials would be conducting talks with their counterparts in Northern Ireland.[39] 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.[40]

By April 2018 the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim had extended an invitation, 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 county's extensive film, tourism and leisure industries as reasons for consideration.[41] On 25 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.[42] The Belfast Telegraph suggested that this was reminiscent of ancient rivalries between the local ports.[43] 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.[44] 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”.[45] In July, Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, conceded that there appeared to be a growing support for the bridge.[46]

In August 2018 Jane Morrice, former Deputy Speaker to the Northern Irish Assembly, suggested that funding possibilities for the bridge were "vast", with private investors seeking infrastructure projects and investment from China. She also suggested funding could be raised from "EU sources [which] could include the cross-border INTERREG programme, the European Investment Bank, the TransEuropean Network and HORIZON 2020. The EU PEACE programme could be another valuable source because the bridge would still respect the Good Friday Agreement by promoting peace and prosperity in the region." She claimed that "The political and symbolic importance of such a link can't be underestimated, and the economic, social and cultural advantages could be significant".[47] The Glasgow Urban Laboratory had published a report suggesting that a high-speed rail link connecting Edinburgh to Dublin via Glasgow and Belfast would be "transformative" for the economies of both Scotland and Ireland saying,[48] "fast-track rail links, both within Scotland and linking to other countries, and an updated road system, are priorities".[49] At the Urbanism at Borders Conference in Aberdeen, Professor Dunlop pitched the idea of the bridge at a keynote speech to an audience of international academics, architects, and engineers at Robert Gordon University.[50]

By October 2018 the first images of the proposed bridge had been released.[33] MP Paul Girvan, transport spokesman for the DUP wrote an article in support of the bridge, stating that the munitions dumped in Beaufort's Dyke after World War II, often cited as a hurdle for the bridge project, are already washing up on beaches in Ireland and the UK and so a cleanup operation was already necessary regardless of whether the bridge was going to be built.[51] Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley responding to questions in parliament indicated the government was aware of the issues regarding the seabed in this area, and also suggested that the bridge was being discussed by the cabinet.[52]

By 2019 Nicola Sturgeon spoke out in favour of the bridge, stating that "Whether it's around a bridge or in other ways strengthening the relationship between Scotland, the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a big priority for my government."[53] It was also suggested that depending on the relationship of Scotland and Northern Ireland with the EU after Brexit the EU could use the port at Cockenzie and the Scotland-Ireland bridge as a means of transporting EU goods to Ireland via the Netherlands.[54] As part of his campaign for the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election Boris Johnson suggested that he supported the construction of the bridge, describing himself as "an enthusiast for that idea", and adding that he believed it would be best "championed by local people with local consent and interest, backed by local business".[55]

In September 2019 the UK government had requested civil servants in the Treasury and Department for Transport undertake a cost and risk analysis of the proposed bridge, with special attention to be paid to possible funding options.[56] The Department for Transport had reportedly already produced a factual paper on the subject for a former transport secretary. When asked to comment on the project the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the UK had "amazing ambitions for the future".[57] The Independent's Europe Correspondent suggested that the UK was lagging behind by not taking the construction of the bridge seriously, suggesting that other countries had already invested in such bridges. The newspaper cited the example of Japan's islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, which are linked by the Seikan Tunnel which exceeds the length of the proposed bridge. It also cited the examples of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link and the Helsinki-Tallinn Tunnel as evidence that the UK was lagging behind comparative European nations.[58] While addressing supporters for the bridge in Northern Ireland UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quoted as having said "With infrastructure projects, finance is not the issue, the issue is political will, the issue is getting the business community to see that this could be something that works for them, the issue is getting popular demand and popular consent for a great infrastructure project - and that is why you need Stormont."[59] In late September 2019 a group of engineers wrote to the National Geographic magazine agreeing that it was "technically possible and far from unrealistic to build" the bridge.[60] By early October 2019 it was reported that the Scottish government had plans to re-purpose the disused port at Stranraer as a lorry park in the event of a "No Deal" Brexit, due to concerns about traffic flows from Northern Ireland[61].

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

North Channel (Galloway) route[edit]

This route has been proposed variously as either a tunnel or a bridge.[62] 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.[63] 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.[64] 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 cleanup operation.[63] 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.[64] 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".[65] 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.[66][67]

Irish Mail route[edit]

This route (from Dublin to Holyhead in Anglesey, Wales) would be about 68 km (42 mi) long.[66]

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. This route would be approximately twice the distance of the English Channel Tunnel at 62 miles (100 km).[68] A new container port on the Shannon Estuary linking a freight line to Europe is included. This report also includes ideas for a BelfastDublinCork high-speed train, and for a new freight line from Rosslare to Shannon.

Proposed and existing fixed sea links between Britain and France[edit]

Channel Tunnel[edit]

  • The Channel Tunnel operates between Britain and 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).[69]

Second Channel Tunnel or Bridge[edit]

  • A second English channel tunnel with a road was proposed in 2000 by Eurotunnel,[70] 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 support.[71]

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-mile (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.[72][73][74]

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

Isle of Man[edit]

  • In 2018 Professor Alan Dunlop, of the University of Liverpool, suggested a circa 18 mile bridge be built from Scotland to the Isle of Man. This was in addition to his suggestion for a bridge connecting Northern Ireland to Scotland. He suggested that it would help open up the Isle of Man economy.[75]
  • 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 edition.[76]

Shetland and Orkney[edit]

  • A possible Orkney tunnel between Scotland and Orkney (about 9–10 miles or 15–16 km) was publicly discussed especially around 2005,[77] but also at other times.
  • In 2014 a consultation was undertaken by Orkney Islands Council, with a view to considering a series of fixed links involving seven of the Orkney islands. This would include a bridge between the isles of Eday, Westray and Papa Westray, to alleviate the need for air travel—currently the shortest schedule flight in the world,[78] and also from Orkney to Shapinsay, Egilsay, Rousay and Wyre, but not a tunnel to Scotland this time.
  • In 2019 a Shetland Island councilor warned that the island of Whalsay would suffer a “slow and painful death” if talks were not held on building a tunnel or fixed link to replace the ferry service.[79]
  • Bridges connecting Orkney to Shetland via the Fair Isle have been mooted at numerous times throughout history with varying degrees of seriousness.

Hebrides[edit]

  • In 2018 the Western Isles Council began plans to build a series of bridges and tunnels between the Outer Hebrides. The plans proposed bridges between the Sound of Harris and the Sound of Barra as a starting point. Ian Fordham, chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism, suggested that the scheme would alleviate the pressure on the ferries that operate across the Outer Hebrides. Plans for a 15-mile tunnel between North Uist and Skye, thereby connecting the Outer Hebrides to the Mainland, had also been mooted.[80] In June 2019 a delegation headed up by the Western Isles MP went to the Faroe Islands to assess its tunnel and bridge-link system to see how the infrastructure could be translated to the Hebrides.[81] In 2019 Angus MacNeil MP, chair of the Commons International Trade Committee, voiced his support for the project, and also for a proposed bridge between the Sound of Kerrera off Oban and between Mull and the mainland to ensure the Inner Hebrides were also connected.[79]

Isle of Wight[edit]

  • 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.[82] 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 4 mi (6.4 km) long dual-carriageway tunnel in the Solent between Whippingham on the island and Gosport, Hants.[83] 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."[84]

Isles of Scilly[edit]

  • Although bridges connecting some of the individual islands of the Isles of Scilly have been suggested at various points through history, the Cornwall Live newspaper ran a 2018 April Fools Day joke page suggesting that there was a secret plan to connect the Isles of Scilly to the mainland.[85]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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