The Union Connectivity Review (UCR) followed an interim report published in March as reported in issue 189 (March-April 2021). It recognised that devolution had been good for transport within the devolved administrations but noted that there was a gap in UK-wide strategic planning.
The UCR’s most important recommendation was for the Government to develop UKNET, a strategic network of multi-modal corridors for the whole of the UK which would connect all the nations with appropriate funding and coordination with the devolved administrations to deliver it. Following the publication of the report, the Prime Minister welcomed publication of the report and advised that he intends to accept the proposal to create UKNET.
Other recommendations concerned specific aspects of these corridors. These included increasing rail capacity between Scotland and London, the Midlands, and the North West by upgrading West Coast Main Line and HS2; upgrading the A75 to Cairnryan port for Northern Ireland; and improved connectivity within the two discrete cross-border economic areas of North Wales – North West England and South Wales – Greater Bristol Area. UCR considered that where journeys are too long to be reasonably undertaken by road or rail there should be financial incentives to promote domestic aviation. It also recommended measure to improve freight flows and decarbonise transport.
The review promoted the case for faster London-to-Scotland rail journey times to attract modal shift from air to rail. At the current base case of 4 hours 30 minutes, 70% of traffic is by air. Forecasts indicate that when HS2 phase 2b reduces the journey time to 3 hours 50 minutes, air traffic will be reduced to 45% and that if journey time can be reduced to 3 hours air traffic will be 25% of the total.
No fixed link
The most newsworthy part of the UCR was its consideration of a fixed link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This was the subject of a separate report which was also the most expensive part of the review, accounting for £897,000 out of the £2 million cost for the whole UCR exercise.
This fixed link report sifted various options to conclude that the 39km link between Stranraer and Bangor was most viable. However, this would have to cross over or go under Beaufort Dyke in the North Channel. This is up to 300-metres deep and had around a million tonnes of ammunition dumped into it after the two world wars.
The report concluded that both a rail only tunnel and a combined road/rail bridge would be technically feasible, but they would be the longest ever built. The bridge would be particularly challenging. It would need seven main spans of 3,750 metres requiring 700-metre-high pylons in unprecedented water depths of up to 165 metres. This would require cutting-edge 21st century technology.
In addition, significant expenditure would be required on road and rail connections. The 160-kilometre route between Gretna and Stranraer would require both a new rail line and upgrading the A75 to full dual carriageway. New rail lines would also be needed in Northern Ireland, particularly in view of its 1600mm gauge.
The fixed link report concluded that, together with their new transport links, the respective cost of bridge and tunnel crossings would be £335 billion and £209 billion and that it would take 30 years before this could be operational. Hendy considered that such costs are impossible to justify and recommended there should be no further work on the fixed link.
UCR and STPR2 methodology
The UCR report aims to bring regions together to bring economic benefits and notes that this will provide a return many times greater than the total cost of the required infrastructure. Another key consideration is levelling up, for which the review engaged with the Prime Minister’s Levelling Up Advisor. The UCR also considers the need for decarbonisation by aligning itself to the aims of the UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
UCR sought views from numerous stakeholders and also commissioned a survey of travel between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A public call for evidence also received 147 submissions on a range of issues about travel between the UK’s four nations.
STPR2 builds on the 2008 review to inform Scottish transport investment for the next 20 years. It also involved extensive consultation which engaged with 600 individual stakeholders and involved 70 regional transport working group meetings. These generated no less than 14,000 ideas which were sifted and collated into 45 recommendations (groupings of similar interventions), and which were assessed against the Scottish National Transport Strategy.
This transport strategy has the objectives of taking action on the climate, addressing inequality and accessibility, improving health and wellbeing, and supporting sustainable economic growth. It also aims to reduce car usage by 20% by 2030 and increase spend on Active Travel to 10% of the total transport budget by 2024-25.
The 45 recommendations are now subject to a 12-week public consultation which will form the basis for a delivery plan. They include connected neighbourhoods to improve active travel, behaviour change initiatives, decarbonisation initiatives, strengthening strategic connections, safety and resilience projects, and enhancing access to affordable public transport. This includes a Clyde Metro, Edinburgh Mass Transit system, and rail corridor enhancements on the Highland Mainline and from Edinburgh/Glasgow to Perth/Dundee/Aberdeen, together with smart ticketing and improved public transport interchanges.
Those that concern strategic connections include those internal to Scotland which includes better access to Grangemouth and fixed links in the Outer Hebrides and Mull. STPRT2’s cross-border recommendations concern better access to Cairnryan port and infrastructure upgrades to permit higher speeds on cross-border routes.
Thus, although the UCR and STPR2 studies have quite different methodologies and scope, it is good to see that, where they overlap, their recommendations are the same.