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Proposed Ireland-Scotland North Channel Bridge Another Profitable Winner For Feasibility Studies Industry

21st January 2022
Shock horror….the idea that the most economical route for a North Channel Bridge would go straight through the picturesque harbour at Donaghadee will have been a factor militating against the idea.
Shock horror….the idea that the most economical route for a North Channel Bridge would go straight through the picturesque harbour at Donaghadee will have been a factor militating against the idea.

Anyone who has sailed regularly in the tide-riven and often stormy North Channel between Scotland and Ireland will have long realized that creating a permanent link – whether bridge or tunnel – would be one of the most demanding engineering challenges imaginable. Add to that the extreme depths in the mid-channel Beaufort Dyke - which happens to be filled with dumped World War II explosives – and you’ve something which would need thousands of fearless stuntmen to complete.

That said, longer bridges and tunnels have been constructed elsewhere. But those who enthuse about the North Channel link tend literally to look only at the surface, whereas those experienced in bridging and tunnelling will look underneath before they look at anything else.

So when the idea surfaced again a year or so ago as central to the new London government’s enthusiasm for an all-UK infrastructure improvement programme, the surface observers were all for it, but those who looked underneath to the sea bed anticipated that, in the end, the only beneficiaries would be the always-thriving Feasibility Studies Industry.

Tunnel vision? The assumption that any fixed North Channel link would automatically go through the established ferry port of Larne ignored the fact that the route through Donaghadee to Portpatrick was significantly shorter. Tunnel vision? The assumption that any fixed North Channel link would automatically go through the established ferry port of Larne ignored the fact that the route through Donaghadee to Portpatrick was significantly shorter. 

Part of the problem was that the bridge or tunnel proponents seemed to assume - through tunnel vision presumably - that it would start from the Irish side near Larne in County Antrim, which for decades has been the principal ferry port, whereas on the main corridor the significantly shortest route to Portpatrick in Scotland is through Donaghadee and Great Copeland Island in County Down. But using that would - like the troublesome new HS2 rail route in southern England - cut straight through some of the choicest real estate, aka The Gold Coast, in Northern Ireland. So it was a non-starter, for even if the docile English will allow HS2 to desecrate some of their most cherished countryside, in North Down “Not An Inch” means just that.

Either way, the estimated costs of this idea were sky-rocketing by the minute, so the inevitable Feasibility Study was commissioned from some very respected transport executives, consultants and academics, and some time ago they regretfully concluded that even with the best of today’s technology, the cost would be prohibitively expensive, both now and for the foreseeable future.

Then yesterday, with much political brouhaha on other topics in London and Belfast as a distraction, the actual cost of that Feasibility Study was slipped under the radar into the public domain. It was £896,681, or €1,072,512 in real money, and it got some Scottish politicians ever so cross, as most of them have made clear their opinion that the whole idea was a serious waste of money at every level.

Scottish politician Willie RennieScottish politician Willie Rennie

Thus the Scottish Liberal Democratic economy spokesman Willie Rennie let fire with both barrels: “This is a gob-smacking sum to have spent on a PR stunt” said he. “It sounds like something that the Prime Minister came up with at 2 am at a Downing Street Party”.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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