A majority of the public say they find travel between UK nations relatively easy – so is there public need for a fixed sea crossing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The Union Connectivity Review (UCR), commissioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to consider transport connectivity between UK nations, is to publish its interim report imminently.
In December, ICE submitted to the UCR call for evidence outlining the need for better governance on cross-border connectivity. We highlighted the need to improve the planning and operation of the broader UK transport system. Unlike other infrastructure sectors, transport relies heavily on central government funding, so decision-makers take a more active interest in transport system interventions.
Is a fixed crossing feasible?
There are two main tests to consider at this stage. Is a fixed crossing of strategic importance to the operation of the UK's transport and infrastructure system? And, is a fixed crossing technically feasible?
We've previously set out the need for a strategic approach to any intervention, one that includes social, economic and environmental factors. A strategic approach to infrastructure planning is better than a tactical one, for all the benefits ICE has outlined before.
From a technical perspective, a fixed crossing would be difficult. It would have to navigate unexploded bombs and break world records for bridge or tunnel engineering. A recent ICE technical briefing explored the challenge in greater detail.
Many industry bodies have put forward recommendations for extending HS2 to Scotland and constructing a tunnel or bridge to Northern Ireland.
But what do the public - the people who are supposed to use this infrastructure - think?
What the public think of travel in the Union
To test if there’s a public need, we conducted surveys with representative samples in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland to see if there is a connectivity problem to fix or an opportunity to unlock.
Being a public survey, this is limited to individuals. We would encourage business groups to conduct similar membership surveys to help fill in the picture on freight and other flows.
The survey asked respondents to consider their usual travel patterns before the pandemic and was conducted in the week's running up to the UK's exit from the European Union.
The key findings are below.
1. Travelling between the nations of the UK is seen as 'easy' by the public
For those who need to, travelling between nations is seen as easy to do, there are no flows of travel between UK nations that is seen as more difficult than easy to do. Even from English regions, there are no journeys to other UK nations deemed more difficult than easy.
For flows to and from Northern Ireland, those in Great Britain are more likely to say travel is ‘not applicable’. From Northern Ireland to Great Britain, travel is seen as 'very easy'.
The images below show the key results. As an example, 78% of respondents in Northern Ireland say travel between Northern Ireland and England is easy to do, only 5% difficult.
2. All nations, apart from Wales, agree they have good transport connectivity with other nations of the UK
We asked another question to test the need for improved connectivity.
We asked respondents to agree/disagree with the statement '[country] has good transport connectivity with other nations of the UK'. Only in Wales did we not see more people agreeing than disagreeing. Here, it was finely balanced with 35% agreeing with the statement, and 35% disagreeing.
3. Lower cost would motivate people to travel more between the nations of the UK in the future
There was a relatively uniform pattern across countries in response to the question: Thinking about any future travel between your nation of residence and other nations of the UK, which, if any, of the following transport improvements would motivate you to travel more frequently?
A cheaper cost of travel was the primary motivating factor that would determine more frequent travel in the future.
4. Most people will look to return to a 'normal' travel pattern between nations after Covid-19
From 46% in England to 65% in Northern Ireland, most people agree rather than disagree that they will be returning to their usual travel patterns to other UK nations after Covid-19 restrictions have eased.
Pause for thought
These results do give some pause for thought on the need behind a new fixed crossing between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
There may be other strategic reasons beyond what the public need, which could tip the balance, but the results highlight that selling a fixed crossing – be it bridge or tunnel - will need a good explanation, particularly when compared to other investment priorities across the Union.
What do you think?
We want to hear from ICE members across the United Kingdom to know what you think about union connectivity. Drop us a line at [email protected] with your thoughts and we might feature your opinions in our Community Blog.
You can read our full submission to the Union Connectivity Review here. This includes additional polling data.
YouGov fieldwork information
Northern Ireland - All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 503 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 23rd December 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all NI adults (aged 18+).
Scotland - All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 22nd December 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+).
Wales - All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 21st December 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Welsh adults (aged 18+).
England - All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1797 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 18th December 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all English adults (aged 18+).