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Editorial comment

In early February of this year, the UK government announced that plans for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland were being looked into “by a range of government officials.” Over recent years, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has repeatedly sounded out the idea of building a bridge connecting the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, arguing that improving transport links within the UK would bolster relations amid an ongoing divide over the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.


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In early February of this year, the UK government announced that plans for a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland were being looked into “by a range of government officials.” Over recent years, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has repeatedly sounded out the idea of building a bridge connecting the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, arguing that improving transport links within the UK would bolster relations amid an ongoing divide over the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Any major construction project comes with a host of practical, economic and social challenges, and this project is no exception to the rule. The so-called ‘Boris Bridge’ would stretch across 22 miles of harsh, open sea, with water depths of more than 1000 ft for a significant part of the route, and with at least 30 towers of 1400 ft in height required to provide clearance over the deepest sections and the shipping channel. In total, the bridge would require 54 towers of heights never previously achieved anywhere in the world.

And then there is the matter of Beaufort’s Dyke. This 32 mile-long depression in the sea floor (which lies right across the proposed route) is home to the UK’s largest offshore dump for conventional and chemical munitions. The Ministry of Defence estimates that the total amount of conventional munitions dumped in Beaufort’s Dyke is somewhere in the region of 1.2 million t. On top of that, it is believed that the dyke also contains around 2 t of radioactive and chemical weapons waste. Not exactly an ideal foundation.

Whilst it’s generally agreed that improving transport links between the various islands of the UK would encourage economic growth, opponents of the bridge also argue that £20 billion would be better spent elsewhere – improving infrastructure in Northern Ireland, for example. Seamus Leheny, Policy Manager for the Freight Transport Association of Northern Ireland, was quoted by The Irish Times as comparing the bridge project to: “your house having multiple leaks in the roof and thinking about building a new conservatory.”

Another more down-to-earth, but equally controversial UK construction project is ‘High Speed 2’ or HS2, a high-speed rail link connecting London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, which was recently given the go-ahead after years of delays and concerns over mounting costs. With a total cost of £106 billion (enough for five Boris Bridges and some change), HS2 is slated for completion in 2040. With up to 14 trains an hour and as many as 1100 seats per train, the final capacity is expected to be triple what is currently available. Additionally, the increased speed of the trains (up to 250 mph), will see commuting times reduced significantly – by as much as an hour on certain routes. Matthew Fell, Policy Director of the Confederation of British Industry, has stated that “The project will bring jobs, new homes, skills and investment to the areas of the country that need them most.” As with the bridge, much of the opposition to HS2 argues that the money would be better spent on improving local infrastructure. That being said, with HS2 finally given the green signal and a government willing to consider even rather controversial projects, the UK could be on the verge of a period of major infrastructure development.


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