Building a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland would be "impossible to justify", British officials have concluded.
A report for the British Government found that while a fixed link between Northern Ireland and Scotland was “feasible”, the price was so large that “the benefits would not outweigh the costs”.
A bridge or tunnel between Antrim and Galloway in south-west Scotland would be the shortest route between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. However, the cost of building a tunnel would be £209 billion (€246 billion) and a bridge would cost £335 billion (€395 billion).
Construction would take decades and from an engineering point of view would be highly complex; the Irish Sea was used as a dumping ground for a million tons of unexploded munitions between the Great War and the 1970s - meaning it would need to be "carefully surveyed".
Other issues include the fact that railways in Britain and Ireland use a different track gauge.
The report’s chairman, Sir Peter Hendy of Network Rail, concluded:
“Planning, design, parliamentary and legal processes, and construction would take nearly 30 years before the crossing could become operational, even given a smooth passage of funding and authority to proceed.
“Whilst the economic and social effects would be transformational, the costs would be impossible to justify”.
However, Sir Peter also said that examining the feasibility of a bridge had been “an excellent question to ask”, as the idea has been debated since the 19th century with no serious study of it from an engineering or economic point of view.
Grant Shapps, Britain’s Secretary of State for Transport, said:
“We accept this recommendation – it is a visionary project whose time might come in future decades, but not now.”
The report is a blow to Boris Johnson, who has regularly championed the idea since becoming British Prime Minister.
In 2019 he told school children he had been in talks, “about building a bridge from Stranraer in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland. That would be very good. It would only cost about £15 billion.”
At the time, then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, gave the Prime Minister's plan a qualified endorsement:
"I do think at the very least a high-level engineering assessment should be done as to whether it is a viable proposal," Mr Varadkar said.
"I know people dismiss these things out of hand, but they used to dismiss the Channel Tunnel as well — the idea of building a tunnel between France and Britain."
However, the idea was usually met with strong scepticism; Boris Johnson's former top aide, Dominic Cummings, summarised it as “the world’s most stupid tunnel to Ireland.”
While Nichola Mallon, Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, previously described the proposal as a “waste of significant money and resource”.
Now Ms Mallon has called for the money that would have been spent on the bridge to be handed over to Stormont for local projects:
“We should see funding channelled to devolved institutions to enable improvement of the rail and bus network across the entire region, a high-speed rail link between Belfast and Dublin, and any number of road safety works carried out, including both the A75 and A77 for those travelling to and from Scotland,” Ms Mallon said.
Main image: Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves following a visit to the Lakeland Forum vaccination centre in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Picture by: PA.