Scotland-Ireland bridge won't deliver economic benefits, warns think-tank

A multi-billion pound crossing between the south-west of Scotland and Northern Ireland would fail to deliver substantial economic benefits and should not be considered a priority, a leading think-tank has warned.

Monday, 9th March 2020, 2:40 pm
Updated Monday, 9th March 2020, 2:42 pm

Boris Johnson has talked up the prospect of a bridge or tunnel one day linking Ulster with Portpatrick in Wigtonshire as his government commits itself to infrastructure improvements across the country.

It was revealed in January that civil servants are currently assessing the merits of such a plan - which would see a permanent crossing built across the 21 miles of the North Channel sea separating Scotland and Ireland - with a report due at some point this year.

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But the Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) at the University of Strathcyde today poured cold water on the potential benefits of the proposal, insisting that other infrastructure schemes north of the Border should be given priority instead.

The village of Portpatrick in Wigtonshire lies just 21 miles from the coast of Northern Ireland.
The village of Portpatrick in Wigtonshire lies just 21 miles from the coast of Northern Ireland.

In a briefing paper, the FAI said more money should be spent instead on how people move between cities - pointing to the example of the 2.5 hours it takes to travel between Glasgow and Aberdeen.

"It is perhaps a sign of the times that political stories, which wouldn’t even have seen the light of day in the past, gain traction," the paper said.

"Somewhere, engineers will be debating the technical challenges of building a bridge over deep water, or a tunnel across a difficult underwater terrain. Geographers will be working out the average windspeeds that traffic will be able to withstand. And munition experts will be discussing how to avoid Beaufort’s Dyke."

It continued: "Those hoping that building a bridge (tunnel or giant catapult even) will automatically be a catalyst for faster economic growth in both Scotland and Northern Ireland will be sorely disappointed.

"Many infrastructure projects displace existing activity from elsewhere and create deadweight. In fact, there is little international evidence to suggest that there is always a causal positive link between infrastructure and growth. Build it and they will come, is sadly not the case."

"The proposed bridge or tunnel won’t actually link up centres of economic activity. Instead, travellers will arrive in rural Dumfries and Galloway or Argyll, with a 90+ mile drive to the central belt (at least a further 2 ½ hours). This won’t improve connectively to the point where any hope of clustering or agglomeration economic effects could be expected to take hold."

It concluded: “So in short. It won’t deliver the economic boost some claim, it isn’t a priority, it would go to the wrong location, it wouldn’t be consistent with climate change objectives, and the money could be better spent on other things.

“Apart from that, it’s a cracking idea.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told MSPS last week that he wanted to see a tunnel constructed between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"It's not a bridge that I'm keen on - it's a tunnel," he told Holyrood's culture committee last week.

"It's not different from the tunnels connecting the Faroes, it's no different from the tunnels underneath the fjords and it removes the problem of Beauford's Dyke and the Word War 11 munitions - 1 million tonnes allegedly were dumped in there.

"It also deals with the problem of weather. It could easily be 100 days a year due to weather of wind that that bridge wouldn't operate.

"The bridge for me is a euphemism for a link which is a tunnel - just to be clear about that."

Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie said: “This analysis shows how utterly ridiculous Boris Johnson’s proposed bridge really is.

“If there really is £20 Billion available for major infrastructure projects this could play a huge role in our efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“We could renew Scotland’s entire public ferry fleet, support councils to establish local publicly owned bus services, and make much needed improvements to our rail network like redualling the Milngavie and Highland Main lines and reopening the Dunfermline to Alloa route.

“It’s time for this Tory government to either put up or shut up, rather than perpetually droning on about this absurd road to nowhere.”

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