Paul Girvan: A Northern Ireland-Scotland bridge could become a reality
A link between Northern Ireland and Scotland would be an ambitious endeavour. But across the world, bridges and tunnels which had previously been ruled impossible or impractical have been constructed. It’s time Parliament backed a feasibility study, says DUP transport spokesperson Paul Girvan
The idea of a physical connection between Northern Ireland and Scotland is not a new one. As far back as the 1880s the idea of a tunnel was discussed, with engineers and even the Belfast Chamber of Commerce giving their support.
More recently the DUP’s 2015 general election manifesto called for “a feasibility study into a tunnel or enclosed bridge across the North Channel from Larne to the Scottish coastline”.
While that bullet point on page 11 received some attention in Northern Ireland at the time, it wasn’t until two years later that it became an issue of nationwide discussion. It is fair to say that no one in the DUP could have predicted quite the level of interest there would be in a proposal that could be categorised as desirable but ambitious.
For our part, we do not ignore the technical or financial considerations of engaging in such a major infrastructure project. We do not pretend to know all the answers. But it is for precisely those reasons that we are calling for a feasibility study to be completed. It seems strange that anyone would be opposed to proper expert analysis of the issues involved, but in Northern Ireland there have been some who have not been able to even support an endeavour to establish the facts.
Across the world, bridges and tunnels have been constructed which only a decade or two earlier would have been ruled impossible or impractical. Technology moves on and we in the United Kingdom should not self-censor ambition.
The pessimists cite necessary road infrastructure improvements on both sides of the bridge and Beaufort’s Dyke, the deep submarine trench which was used as a munitions dump at the end of the two world wars. Those who currently cross between Northern Ireland and Scotland by ferry can testify to the need for improved road connections. Given that munitions already wash up on beaches on both sides of the North Channel there is also a need for a proper survey of exactly what has been dumped between Northern Ireland and Scotland, and assessment of any risk these pose, regardless of whether any construction project will be taking place.
The Oresund bridge linking Denmark and Sweden gives an indication of the positive results of such a project. In that case, taxpayers have not paid anything for the bridge or tunnel, but only for the land connections. The connection itself is entirely user-financed with toll fees paid by all those who benefit from the ease of movement.
The revenue generated by the Copenhagen-Malmo bridge is unlikely to be matched by a connection across the North Channel, but it helps to illustrate how such projects do not have to be an unbearable burden upon the public purse and can provide a major economic boost.
As a unionist there will always be an attraction in seeing a physical connection between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but there are benefits stretching outside of the United Kingdom.
It is not without significance, either, that the Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney welcomed the idea of investigating the feasibility of such a scheme. Those making the crossing would not just come from Northern Ireland; it would also be an important connection between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.
There are many ambitious projects that we can look back on today and admire the foresight of those who saw a vision become reality. None of them would have happened if the initial proposals were rejected without even receiving proper consideration.
As we leave the European Union, the DUP has been clear that there should be no border erected down the Irish Sea. Instead of placing barriers between parts of the United Kingdom we should be building bridges.
Paul Girvan is MP for South Antrim and DUP transport spokesperson