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‘Boris Bridge’ architect on why it’s not a ‘stupid idea’ – it would ‘revive the economy’

THE architect behind the original plan to build a crossing from Scotland to Northern Ireland insists it should be a “post-Brexit imperative” in the wake of the UK Government shelving the idea.

Professor Alan Dunlop, who first suggested building a bridge over the Irish Sea and released drawings of what a crossing connecting the two countries could look like, said the link was perfectly feasible and if it had gone ahead would offer “irrefutable evidence” of the Government’s commitment to the people of Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit world.

The proposed link, described as the “world’s most stupid tunnel” by Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, had a price tag of about £15 billion and the backing of the Prime Minister.

But Prof Dunlop, one of the UK’s leading architects, insists the plan was far from stupid.

“I still firmly believe such a major transportation and infrastructure project would be an investment in the future after Brexit and also post-Covid. Much like Roosevelt’s New Deal, it would put many people back to work,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Boris bridge’ plan to link Scotland and Northern Ireland axed

Prof Dunlop, a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, says the creation of a 25-mile tunnel or a bridge remains entirely feasible.

The tunnel has fallen victim to cuts in a spending review as the Treasury struggles to rebuild the post-pandemic economy.

Scotland’s NetZero, Climate and Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said earlier this year the link could end up costing £33bn and predicted it would not happen in the Prime Minister’s lifetime.

Since the conclusion of the Brexit transition period on December 31, the crossing idea has been pushed into the spotlight, as the Northern Ireland protocol included in the withdrawal agreement sees the region remaining within EU trade regulations.

Only last month, Mr Johnson’s former communications director, Guto Harri, said he believed a “Boris Burrow” or “Boris Bridge” should not be dismissed entirely.

He added: “He wants to maintain the Union and he wants to persuade the rest of the world that we’re still big players and can build big things – and what would be bigger than a tunnel under the Irish Sea, linking Scotland and Northern Ireland?” he said.

Originally planned as a bridge, the scheme gained the support of some within the industry, and has been examined by former HS2 chair, Doug Oakervee, as well as Gordon Masterton, chair of future infrastructure at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the Government’s yet-to-be-published Union Connectivity Review.

HeraldScotland: Professor Alan DunlopProfessor Alan Dunlop

READ MORE: Stormont Minister pleased “distraction” of Boris’ bridge to Northern Ireland “put to bed”

The pair were asked to assess the feasibility of such a link, estimate outline costs, and give a timescale for the link and associated works. Their report has not yet been published.

The concept has previously been rubbished by Mr Matheson, describing it as the Prime Minister’s “vanity project”.

A proposed high-speed rail tunnel could be completed in five years, according to some.

Experts have questioned the bridge’s practicality, given the weather conditions in the Irish Sea and the position of Beaufort’s Dyke trench, which contains dumped wartime munitions.

Prof Dunlop, visiting professor at Robert Gordon University’s Scott Sutherland School of Architecture who has taught at schools of architecture internationally, presented proposals for both a bridge and tunnel as recently as last week.

They included images of floating bridges currently being built in Norway as part of a £30bn investment in transport and infrastructure in a country with a population similar to Scotland.

He said of the project’s apparent demise: “It’s disappointing if true, but given the current economic predicament perhaps understandable.

“However, the Celtic Crossing Irish Sea Link proposal has been headlining all over the world since January 2018. There were times when I thought it over only for the idea to rise again and the Union Connectivity report is yet to be published.

“I still firmly believe such a major transportation and infrastructure project would be an investment in the future after Brexit and also post-Covid. Much like Roosevelt’s New Deal, it would put many people back to work. The case, however, for a physical connection between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is not only one of infrastructure. Such a link would consolidate economic, social, and cultural ties and offer irrefutable evidence of the UK Government’s commitment to the people particularly of Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“The United Kingdom has the engineering and architectural talent and the capability to build this project. It would be transformative and a world first.

“It is true that it was ridiculed by some engineers but supported by many others, globally and as for the ‘world’s most stupid tunnel’ comment. We know why Cummings said that, surely.

“Experts are said to have said that the Irish Sea is more than 1,000ft deep in some areas, and a bridge would need dozens of towers supporting it at heights ‘never achieved anywhere in the world’. What experts? This ‘expert’ who has studied it for three years disagrees.”

HeraldScotland: A floating tunnel is one way to link the two countriesA floating tunnel is one way to link the two countries

If a tunnel was approved it would run under the Irish Sea between Portpatrick, in the south west of Scotland and Larne in County Antrim. A potential route for a bridge is from near Campbeltown, Scotland, to Northern Ireland’s Antrim coast.

Prof Dunlop, who was awarded the Royal Gold Medal in Architecture from the Royal Scottish Academy, believes a crossing makes sense in terms of cost to those using it. He believed hauliers can pay as much as £600 per return journey by ferry and he said one operator makes 20 crossings for each week of the year. Passengers pay £300 for a return.

“Initially, my idea of a bridge or tunnel appeared to unite nationalist and unionist politicians on both sides of the Irish Border and on either side of the North Irish Sea,” he said.

“The then Irish Deputy Prime Minister, Simon Coveney; DUP leader Arlene Foster; Mike Russell of the SNP; and Boris Johnson, soon to be prime minister, all gave their public backing to the plan.

“In my view, the time is clearly right to re-examine the options for a British-Irish connection.

“Although reports seem to indicate that the tunnel idea is to be scrapped, I contend still that a link from the mainland to Northern Ireland is a post-Brexit imperative and has even greater potential to demonstrate the UK Government’s commitment to unity and to all parts of our country.

“Clearly, there remain geological and engineering challenges to both

bridge or tunnel but these are not insurmountable and there are international precedents.

“Norway, has pioneered a potential solution to the deep sea using the concept of ‘floating bridges’, that can overcome great sea depth and avoid column contact with the seabed.”

“Norway has a population size similar to Scotland and is in the process of investing £30bn to create the ‘Norwegian Coastal Highway’ a 1,100km route from Kristiansand in the south to Trondheim in the north.

“The road will cross 20 fjords, many more than 600 metres deep, using floating bridges and tunnel connections – so, it can be done.

“Another example is the Oresund Bridge that connects Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmo in Sweden. Copenhagen has a population comparable to Glasgow and Malmo to Edinburgh.

“The bridge was the result of an economic and design collaboration by both countries.

“More than 25 million people use the crossing each year and the bridge has made a £8bn return on its initial investment since opening. It has established the Oresund Economic Region which employs over four million people.

“However, the case for a physical connection between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is not only one of infrastructure.

“Such a link would consolidate economic, social, and cultural ties and offer irrefutable evidence of the Government’s commitment to the people of Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit world.

“The United Kingdom has the engineering and architectural talent and the capability to build this project. It would be transformative and a world first.

“Full research should be carried out to establish the economic and social

benefits of a crossing and assess the geological and engineering challenges it would pose.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister, Nichola Mallon, has said she is pleased that the “distraction” of the crossing has been shelved.

She said: “I was pleased that we got confirmation that the distraction of a £20bn fixed bridge, or three tunnels and a roundabout under the sea has finally been put to bed.

“This was a bridge estimated to cost around £20bn and we all know round this table what we could do with £20bn for our infrastructure and our communities.”

A spokesman for the UK Government did not deny that the plans had been shelved, but said: “Boosting connectivity across the UK and improving transport infrastructure are at the heart of our levelling up agenda.”



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