Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson's Irish Sea tunnel and bridge plans dead in water

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire, last week. Picture by Ian Forsyth, Press Association

BORIS Johnson's plans for a bridge or tunnel connecting Northern Ireland with Scotland have been officially scrapped after a review to be published this week found the projects would be too challenging and expensive.

The Irish News asked the Department for Transport several months ago how much of taxpayers' money has been spent on assessing the feasibility of a bridge or a tunnel over the Irish Sea.

However, in a response under the Freedom of Information Act, the department said it could not reveal the cost until a review of the plans is published.

"The total cost of the Union Connectivity Review (UCR) Fixed Link Feasibility Study, which is assessing the viability of constructing a fixed transport link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be published once the UCR has fully concluded," the department said.

The prime minister asked Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail, to launch a study into how different parts of the UK could be better connected.

It is understood the review, due to be published this week, has ruled out plans for a bridge or tunnel across the Irish Sea.

Government sources had suggested in September that the plans had effectively been axed after Chancellor Rishi Sunak withdrew funding.

Mr Johnson first suggested a bridge which would connect Stranraer with Larne three years ago - an idea that was widely dismissed by engineers.

The bridge was expected to cost around £20 billion.

The proposed tunnel, which was expected to cost about £15bn, was also backed by Mr Johnson.

The project was branded the "world's stupidest tunnel" by former prime ministerial aide Dominic Cummings and "fantasy" by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

A government source told The Telegraph: “Hendy has examined if this is affordable and practical and he concludes it would be technically very challenging at the moment.

“That’s not to say it won't become viable at some point in the future, but at the moment it would be very, very difficult and expensive.”

It is understood the Hendy connectivity review first rejected plans for a bridge in the North Channel.

The bridge would have needed some of the largest support towers ever constructed.

It would also have been frequently forced to close due to strong gales.

The review also looked at the feasibility of a tunnel.

An undersea road tunnel was ruled out because it would take the emergency services too long to arrive in the event of a crash.

A undersea rail tunnel between Stranraer and Larne, submitted by the High-Speed Rail Group, was looked at in more detail.

However, the review found that, since trains can only travel on gentle gradients, any tunnel would have to start far inland at both ends to cope with the steep drops under the sea.

Sir Peter's recommendations for boosting connections across the UK are expected to focus on road and rail links to Wales and Scotland.

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