A tunnel between the United Kingdom mainland and Northern Ireland championed by Boris Johnson moves a step closer today as a study into its feasibility is commissioned.
Sir Peter Hendy, the Network Rail chairman who is advising the Government on improving UK transport links, has asked two leading construction figures to look into the idea.
Writing for The Telegraph about improving transport connections, the Prime Minister says “it is time to begin to strengthen the very sinews – the musculoskeletal structure – of the United Kingdom”.
Air Passenger Duty (APD) on flights within the UK is expected to be cut, with the Government announcing a consultation that could see the cost of domestic flights reduced.
The Government has also announced £20 million to further develop plans for upgrading rail, road, sea and air links singled out in Sir Peter’s interim report.
The Prime Minister is putting renewed focus on keeping the Union together amid sizable support for Scottish independence and heightened border tensions in Northern Ireland.
“It’s currently quicker to get a train from Cardiff to Paris than from Cardiff to Edinburgh,” Mr Johnson writes in his piece for The Daily Telegraph.
The idea that mainland UK and Northern Ireland should be connected by a “fixed link”, such as a bridge or a tunnel across the Irish Sea, is one Mr Johnson has previously expressed interest in.
Sir Peter says in his report he has commissioned “a discrete piece of work, using engineering consultants, to assess the feasibility of such a [fixed] link, and an outline cost and timescale for the link and the associated works needed”.
Prof Douglas Oakervee, the former chairman of both HS2 and Crossrail, and Prof Gordon Masterton, a past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, will lead the work. It is understood that a tunnel is currently more favoured than a bridge given the depth of water in the Irish Sea, which makes the latter difficult to construct.
The work is expected to report back in the summer, at the same time as Sir Peter will complete his review and give his final recommendations.
Mr Johnson argues in his Telegraph article that there is a “Brexit dividend” to be spent on UK transport improvements, noting the Government’s past contributions to the European Union. The Prime Minister says the UK contributed €420 million a year to the Trans-European Transport Network but effectively got only 10 per cent of that back – a point also made in Sir Peter’s report.
He writes: “As we look at the UK transport network, there is a particular weakness that has become steadily more obvious in the last 20 years. We have become far too segmented in our thinking.
“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 northern England – and yet, incredible as it may seem, we have failed to produce a UK-wide transport strategy.”
Sir Peter, who was commissioned to carry out the study last October, lists areas of concern that he believes should be addressed.
He cites the need for improving rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England and calls for significantly faster rail links from England to Scotland. He also calls for upgrading the A75, which runs from Scotland’s west coast and central regions. It is a key route for trade between Scotland and Northern Ireland but is almost entirely single track.
Mr Johnson wants to cut the current APD of £26 charged on return domestic flights within the UK. Two options are understood to be in consideration: removing the duty from the return leg of a journey or dropping the amount to £7 each way for domestic flights.
Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said yesterday: “After the fuel duty freeze and rail fare rises, cutting duty on domestic flights would continue our nonsensical trend of the higher the carbon, the lower the tax.”