The government has launched an official feasibility study into the prospect of a tunnel or bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland as part of the prime minister’s bold plan to “improve pan-UK transport links”.
Network Rail chairman and ex-Transport for London Commissioner Peter Hendy has been asked by Boris Johnson to “address the problem of union connectivity” as a means of accelerating the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The nature of the potential ‘fixed link’ has yet to be determined, but the BBC reports expert estimates of a total outlay between £15 billion and £20bn.
The proposed Irish Sea crossing forms part of a plan to cultivate a UK-wide transport strategy to replace the devolved and disparate system currently in place across the four nations of the UK. The government has allocated £20 million to the improvement and updating of several key transport corridors.
Other projects mooted as part of the scheme include a widening of the predominantly single-carriageway A1 road north of Newcastle upon Tyne and a congestion-relieving scheme on the much-maligned M4 corridor.
The oft-congested A75 in south-west Scotland has been earmarked for improvement, too, which would speed up transit times for freight delivered to the Scottish port of Cairnryan from Ireland.
Johnson outlined his motivations for the scheme: “For far too long, we have tended to carve up the country through a devolve-and-forget approach. We have devised transport strategies for Scotland, for Wales, for Northern Ireland and [for] Northern England – and yet, incredible as it may seem, we have failed to produce a UK-wide transport strategy.
“We left it, bizarrely, to the EU, which had a concept called the Trans-European Transport Network. The UK paid handsomely for our friends to draw these lines on the map, about €420m [£359.6m] per year. We only got about 10% back.
“The result is that the sinews of pan-UK transport have atrophied, with inadequate connections, needless bottlenecks and endless delays on the vital links between one part of the UK and another.”
Johnson also wants to overhaul the tax structure for domestic air travel and potentially explore the possibility of overhauling the main railway north of Newcastle to speed up journey times from London to Glasgow.