Union Connectivity Review: Looking at HS2 extensions and Irish Sea tunnels dominate proposals

Posted on 23 February 2021

Submissions to the government's Union Connectivity Review have been overwhelmingly focused on proposals for an Irish Sea tunnel as part of the High Speed 2 (HS2) project. 

The Union Connectivity review, launched in October 2020, reviews the quality and availability of transport infrastructure across the UK that can support economic growth and quality of life.

Numerous groups have recently presented their ideas for vital transportation links, all of which will be considered by Sir Peter Hendy, the chair of Network Rail leading the review. The review will evaluate ways to enhance transportation infrastructure throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland via road, rail, and air, with a particular focus on the Irish Sea region. 

The objective is to aid the UK's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic by improving and creating connections while also increasing access to jobs and opportunities.

 An interim report is expected imminently, with the full report due to be published in the summer. Proposals include:

Irish Sea Link

The High-Speed Rail Group proposed a cross-Irish sea rail tunnel that connects rail links to Carlisle and Belfast. 

Members of the High-Speed Rail group commented on the proposal, saying that this would bind Northern Ireland closer to Great Britain, helping to address challenges in the post-Brexit Northern Ireland economy. They also commented saying that this will increase connectivity for South West Scotland.

Greengauge 21, a policy research group specialising in transport and its wider impacts, called for the creation of a Scotland-Northern Ireland tunnel which could form part of a ‘capital cities axis’ between Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The research group described the Irish Sea tunnel connection as the ‘obvious approach’ to improving the connectivity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

High Speed 2

High-Speed Rail Group also put a proposal forward for the conversion of the ‘Y’ shaped HS2 network to an ‘X’, providing a direct connection between Cardiff and Edinburgh.

The proposal emphasised that this conversion would provide direct rail connections currently missing between Cardiff, Sheffield, Leeds, York, tees Valley and Newcastle. It would also improve the connectivity of Gloucester rail and make South Wales a beneficiary of HS2.

Meanwhile, Transport for the North called for clear commitment for the delivery of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse rail. In November, the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed that Phase 2b would be split into multiple bills to be passed in Parliament, while three options in the National Infrastructure Commission's Rail Needs Assessment – published in December – suggested scaling back the eastern leg. This assessment will inform the Integrated Rail Plan.

Northern Powerhouse Rail

In its submission, The West Midlands Combined Authority spoke about the emphasis on the importance of the Northern Powerhouse Rail, including a new line between Leeds and Manchester via Bradford.

Transport for the North also suggested the extension of the Northern Powerhouse and HS2 services to Scotland. They also talked about ensuring that Key northern stations such as Preston, Carlisle, Darlington and Newcastle are fully HS2-ready.

East West Rail

Transport East identified the development of the eastern section of East West Rail as an important project. The East-West Rail project will provide a vital link between Oxford and Cambridge.

Transport East commented on the project, stating that the eastern section would complement the rest of the project, enhancing connectivity from the East of England across the UK to Wales and interchanging with new connections to Scotland. 

The eastern section of East West Rail will complete the line to Cambridge. Currently in its planning stages with Consultant Steer appointed by East West Rail Consortium t0 bolster its business case in August Last year. 

The Union Connectivity Review has generated a diverse range of proposals aimed at enhancing transport infrastructure across the UK, with a particular focus on the Irish Sea region. The potential construction of an Irish Sea tunnel as part of the HS2 project has been a popular topic among various groups submitting proposals, alongside other crucial projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and East West Rail.

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