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Are elevated cycleways pie-in-the-sky, and is a link to Ireland a bridge too far?

Construction National blog logoIn contrast to my post last month, when the story on infrastructure projects was all about small-scale local activity, this week the emphasis has been on ideas for BIG infrastructure projects – some completely off the wall, but others with a modicum of practicality about them.

It was all down to a series of articles on the Beeb website detailing some of the dreams of architects and planners. First out of the blocks were five ideas which were postulated by their proponents to “improve life in the UK”. The first clutch all seemed to build on existing or past entities to help us get around: a tunnel at Welwyn North, a motorway for the east, a bridge to the Isle of Wight (my favourite), a Channel road tunnel and trams for Liverpool and Leeds.

The latter doesn’t seem to be anything special – we have them in Manchester, Sheffield and famously Blackpool, so why not all the major cities? The idea is for the systems in Liverpool and Leeds to replace the hugely expensive HS2 project and is being supported by the think tank the New Economics Foundation.

The author of its report on the plan, David Theiss, said: “Our research shows the government is backing the wrong horse. Instead of pouring billions of pounds into a single line that will take twenty years to complete we should be spreading our bets on a wider range of transport investments that offer better value for money.”

Those five ideas were followed a few days later by some truly awesome flights of fancy. They included a rail link between the Great Britain and Ireland, either to Northern Ireland and thence to the Republic or directly from Wales to Dublin. The shortest distance would be from Kintyre to Antrim, but the extra infrastructure needed to provide a viable link to and from Kintyre would bin that one for a start.

I liked the idea of elevated cycleways for London commuters, a plan being worked on by Exterior Architects and Foster + Partners. That was until I saw the sketch and wondered how anyone would get up there on a bike after a hard day at work. Plus, the idea would be to fund it by charging to use it.

More practical and easier to justify would be to reopen the trans-Pennine rail tunnel to provide a direct route from Liverpool to Hull, via Manchester and Leeds. As things stand, HS2 would go TO the North West (or, more likely, TO London FROM the North West) rather than ACROSS the North of England.

Rail expert Christian Wolmar is quoted in the article as saying of the new East-West link: “That would be far more transformative than a high speed link with London which might just suck firms away from the North.”

Which is why it will never happen.

Chris Stokes