Feasibility study assessing Northern Ireland-Scotland bridge or tunnel
By Neil Lancefield, and Harriet Line, PA
A major transport connectivity review is assessing the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The research is being carried out as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnsonâs bid to improve UK transport links.
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, who is carrying out a review of union connectivity, said further work is required on the possibility of a âfixed linkâ across the Irish Sea.
Following publication of his interim report, the Government announced that air passenger duty â a tax on passenger flights from UK airports â could be cut for domestic journeys.
Some ÂŁ20 million has also been committed to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links â and explore new requirements to offset emissions and decarbonise aviation.
Sir Peter has commissioned two engineering professors to lead a study into the feasibility of a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, outlining its cost, timescale and the work involved.
They are ex-HS2 and Crossrail chairman Douglas Oakervee and former vice-president of Jacobs Engineering Gordon Masterton.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly spoken about the prospect of a bridge, even though experts have warned that the depth of the Irish Sea and the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems.
The scheme could cost a reported ÂŁ20 billion, although the Prime Minister has previously said it would âonly cost about ÂŁ15 billionâ.
The distance from Larne to Portpatrick, one of the most likely routes for a bridge, is around 28 miles (45km).
There is no problem with distance, money or the Beaufortâs Dyke explosives disposal area, according to Mr Johnson.
In November 2018, he said: âThe problem is not the undersea Beaufortâs Dyke or lack of funds. The problem is an absence of political will.â
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps rejected a claim from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
He told the BBC: âI understand that it is not the responsibility of the Scottish First Minister to connect the United Kingdom together. The Scottish First Minister doesnât even believe we should be in a United Kingdom. So I understand her perspective but I think it is wrong.
âFor example, if you live in Northern Ireland, you want to know that you can reliably get the hauliers and lorry drivers in with goods from the mainland of the British Isles.
âWhy would you ever be against connecting different parts of our country in a better way? It shouldnât be a controversial thought at all.
âAs one small part of this Union connectivity review (we will) undertake a study of the feasibility of doing that and we will report back in the summer.â
Sir Peterâs interim report assessed ways transport can better connect all parts of the UK.
It set out how a UK Strategic Transport Network would deliver the ambition â upgrading direct transport links, reducing delays and stimulating growth across the four nations.
The Governmentâs ÂŁ20 million will be spent on exploring the development of projects including improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England; upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer; faster rail links from England to Scotland; plus rail improvements in south-east Wales.
Mr Johnson said: âItâs now time to build back better in a way which brings every corner of the UK closer together.
âWe will harness the incredible power of infrastructure to level up parts of our country that have too long been left off the transport map.
âThis pioneering review by Sir Peter Hendy gives us the tools we need to deliver on our ambitions for a UK-wide transport network that encompasses sea, rail, and road â and I also want to cut passenger duty on domestic flights so we can support connectivity across the country.â