Union Connectivity Review | HS2 extensions and Irish Sea tunnels dominate proposals

Posted on 23 February 2021

Union Connectivity Review | HS2 extensions and Irish Sea tunnels dominate proposals

High Speed 2 (HS2) suggestions and proposals for an Irish Sea tunnel dominate submissions to the government's ongoing Union Connectivity Review.

In the past month, various groups have put forward ideas for key transport links to inform the review, which is being led by Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy.

The review will look at how to boost transport infrastructure throughout Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England via road, rail and air, and across the Irish Sea.

It will examine how such links could be improved to fuel the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, improving connections, creating new ones and levelling up access to jobs and opportunities.

An interim report is expected soon, with the full review to be published in the summer.

Irish Sea Link

The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) proposed a cross-Irish Sea rail tunnel with connecting rail links to Carlisle and Belfast.

The HSRG said this would bind Northern Ireland closer to Great Britain and help address challenges in the post-Brexit Northern Ireland economy, as well as increasing connectivity for south west Scotland.

Transport thinktank Greengauge 21 also called for the creation of a Scotland-Northern Ireland tunnel which it says could form part of a ‘capital cities axis’ between Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Greengauge 21 described an Irish Sea tunnel connection as “the obvious approach” to improve Great Britain - Northern Ireland connectivity, likening its capabilities to those of the Eurotunnel between England and France.

Various options have been put forward for a crossing since the option of a bridge was first suggested.

In March last year, Alan Dunlop – the architect who first proposed plans for a crossing – said that a Northern Ireland to Scotland tunnel could cost up to £16bn less than a bridge. This came after Scottish secretary Alister Jack said that a tunnel was an option favoured by the UK Government due to its comparatively lower cost.

High Speed 2

The HSRG also proposed the conversion of the ‘Y’ shaped HS2 network to an ‘X’, which would provide a direct connection between Cardiff and Edinburgh.

It emphasised that this would provide direct rail connections currently missing between Cardiff and Sheffield, Leeds, York, Tees Valley and Newcastle. In addition, it would improve Gloucester’s rail connectivity and make South Wales a beneficiary of HS2.

Meanwhile, Transport for the North (TfN) called for “clear commitment” to the delivery of both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

In its submission to the review, TfN pushed for the delivery of the schemes “in full through the Integrated Rail Plan”.

Similarly ,the West Yorkshire Combined Authority identified HS2’s eastern leg as key to improving UK connectivity.

Fears that the eastern leg of HS2 – from the West Midlands to Leeds – could be axed were first raised in October when the government launched its consultation on design changes to the western leg of the route.

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 emphasised the importance of NPR including a new line between Leeds and Manchester via central Bradford.

TfN also suggested “extending NPR and HS2 services north to Scotland” along with ensuring that “key Northern stations such as Preston, Carlisle, Darlington and Newcastle are fully HS2 ready”.

East West Rail

Transport East identified development of the eastern section of East West Rail as an important project.

In its entirety, the East West Rail project will provide a link between Oxford and Cambridge.

According to Transport East, the eastern section would complement the rest of the project and “enhance connectivity from the East of England across the UK to Wales and interchange with new connections to Scotland”.

The eastern section would complete the line to Cambridge. It is currently in the planning stages, with consultant Steer appointed by the East West Rail Consortium to bolster its business case in August last year.

Share this article