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Boris bridge: Northern Ireland-Scotland link like ‘raising the Titanic’

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The project was compared to "raising the Titanic".

The project was compared to "raising the Titanic".

Ramora CEO David Welch Credit: BBC

Ramora CEO David Welch Credit: BBC

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The project was compared to "raising the Titanic".

Building a bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland – which would traverse Britain’s largest known military dump – would be like “raising the Titanic”, a munitions expert has said.

David Welch, managing director of bomb and explosives disposal experts Ramora UK, said the project being considered in a feasibility study by the UK government is “not impossible” but would be “incredibly challenging”.

Scottish architect Alan Dunlop has put forward a proposal for a rail-and-road bridge between Portpatrick in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland in a project frequently touted by the Prime Minister, leading it to be dubbed the ‘Boris Bridge’.

But Mr Welch compared it to Northern Ireland’s most famous and tragic shipbuilding exploit. “It’s a bit like raising the Titanic,” he told CNN.

Plans for the bridge have been described as a “pipe dream” by Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, while Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it diverged from “the real issues”.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said the “astronomical costs” would be better spent improving transport links in Northern Ireland and it would not bring about the enhancements people would expect “until we have addressed the longstanding issues within our existing transport network”.

If achieved, the bridge would be a feat of engineering spanning the 50km Beaufort’s Dyke with an average depth of 150 metres and almost twice that at its deepest point.

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Mr Welch said “a considerable clearance campaign” of more than a million tonnes of unexploded munitions would have to take place before anything was built, amounting to “many, many millions of pounds” in cost.

“You need to be confident that the area in which you’re about to place equipment or assets or people is sufficiently clear to allow the safe mooring or positioning of the vessels and everything else,” he told CNN.

“What you don’t want is to clear an area around the bridge, only for it to over time have migrated munitions move up against the base of the bridge.”

Transport Minister Grant Shapps told the BBC in March if a fixed sea link is built, the weather factors mean it is more likely to be a tunnel than a bridge.

There is “existing infrastructure, you’ve got cables, you’ve got shipping lanes,” said Paul Quigley, geotechnical engineer and director of Gavin & Doherty. “When you start to map the seabed, it’s surprising how constrained the resources can be.”

“What Brexit has shown is there is a sizable volume of trade that comes into Dublin from (Britain) and it’s destined for Northern Ireland,” Mr Quigley added. He said it would be hard to get stakeholders to invest in a route that directs traffic further away from Belfast or Londonderry.

“The real constraint on the bridge is the fact that, given the weather conditions, there will be periods when you will close a bridge due to high winds and just the safety aspects. The other issue is you’re putting a structure into a very harsh environment. The maintenance of a bridge structure is likely to be prohibitive,” he said. “It’s good to dream and good to imagine these things,” but there has “to be a project need.”

Architect Alan Dunlop said there has not been a major infrastructure project that hasn’t received criticism.

Projects in similarly “difficult geological conditions” haven’t been “as challenging as this”, he admitted. But he believes that “within the United Kingdom, we have absolutely the engineering and architectural talent to tackle this.”

The price tag on his “Celtic Crossing” bridge would be £20bn and would also include a sea tunnel.

Paul Quigley said the figure is based on technology associated with the 1994 Channel Tunnel project but the costs could be much higher because “we’re in a very different era in terms of environmental compliance and risk assessment.”

Minister Nichola Mallon added: “We already suffer a substantial infrastructure deficit, especially in the north west and while the British Government has given many promises to deliver schemes to address this deficit, not least those set out in the New Decade New Approach, funding has still not appeared.

"I believe that these projects taken together will have a much more positive impact on connectivity right across the north.

"Transport is a devolved responsibility and decisions for local people must be made here by locally elected and locally accountable Ministers. If there is more money available from London to spend on transport infrastructure, then it should be spent on proven schemes that we already know will make a positive difference to people here.

"As I have demonstrated through my regular work with ministers in the south, England, Scotland and Wales, I believe in partnership working across these islands however I am not prepared to have any British Government ignore devolved responsibilities to serve its own interests rather than that of the people of Northern Ireland.”


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