The Story Of The Celtic Crossing Between Great Britain And Northern Ireland

The Irish Sea Bridge, sometimes known as the Celtic Crossing, would have been a massive undertaking, not necessarily just because of the 45km length, just over a third of the length of the longest bridge ever made.

One of the most fascinating stories in British Infrastructure aside from the commencement of construction of High Speed 2 is another proposed major infrastructure project that would have attempted the almost unthinkable prospect of linking together Northern Ireland and Scotland by road and rail.

The Irish Sea Bridge, sometimes known as the Celtic Crossing, would have been a massive undertaking, not necessarily just because of the 45km length, just over a third of the length of the longest bridge ever made.

The First Serious Proposals

Whilst the first mention of a bridge between Great Britain and Ireland was a satirical publication from 1799, the concept had been talked about over two centuries, with the financial incentives of such a project tempered by limited engineering capability and the potential for considerable cost.

After a 2000 feasibility study suggested the potential of a crossing of the Irish Sea, the idea was revived by Professor Alan Dunlop of the University of Liverpool between Larne in Northern Ireland and Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

The route was chosen in part because the entrance to the bridge would be better protected from the harsh and choppy Irish Sea, which would ideally reduce the need for expensive bridge repairs.

The Problem Of Beaufort’s Dyke

The Beaufort’s Dyke Trench is in the middle of the proposed route and was also a dumping ground for weapons and munitions after the Second World War, with later studies finding a considerable amount of radioactive material.

This would either need to be cleared from the potential route or would require a floating bridge solution, similar to that used on the Øresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. This would use connected sea orbs that were attached carefully to the seabed.

Alternatives would involve the creation of artificial islands or a tunnel section.

Developments And The Hendy Review

The proposals had received some support, particularly given the initial proposed costs of £20bn, which was a sixth of the £120bn cost of a proposed bridge across the English Channel, and the government looked into a cost analysis to see how expensive the crossing would be.

This was apparently still the case even in June 2020, as the Civil Service remained focused on more pressing matters, with the idea that the bridge would be part of a major infrastructure drive to help British industry, and commissioned Sir Peter Hendy CBE to review the proposals.

The analysis included the suggestion that it could be a potential replacement for the defunct airline Flybe, and civil engineers Douglas Oakervee and Gordon Masterson were assigned to develop an outline of the work needs, the costs and timescales of such a project.

The resulting Union Connectivity Review would be published in November 2021 and would pour cold water onto any potential Celtic Crossing.

Whilst it was clear that the bridge was likely to be carbon neutral within 60 years of its construction, could be used as a renewable energy source and would help create more secure pipelines for utilities and cables, the cost was considerable.

The review suggested that a bridge would cost £335bn, with a tunnel costing £209bn, both totals over ten times the suggested £20bn price when the project was first proposed, and well over the cost of a similar Channel Tunnel Bridge proposal.

The report was clear that the price made it “impossible to justify”, especially since the bridge would require thirty years of construction, as well as significant infrastructure works at both ends.