Professors Doug Oakervee and Gordon Masterton have been tasked with exploring a Northern Ireland fixed link by Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy, who is himself leading a wider review of UK transport links for the government.
The interim report from Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review sets out a range of priorities to be explored, including:
- better connections for passengers from HS2 to Scotland and North Wales
- East Coast Main Line improvements
- upgrade the A75 from the ferry port at Cairnryan to the M6 corridor for freight and passengers to and from Northern Ireland
- relief from congestion for the M4 corridor in South Wales
- more port capacity at Holyhead, with improved connections from Anglesey to the mainland.
However, an assessment of prospects for a fixed link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain has been subcontracted to two eminent engineers.
“I have asked two experts, Professor Douglas Oakervee CBE and Professor Gordon Masterton OBE, to lead a discrete piece of work,” he said, “using engineering consultants, to assess the feasibility of such a link, and an outline cost and timescale for the link and the associated works needed.”
Doug Oakervee is a past chairman of both HS2 and Crossrail and was the 139th president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was the chief engineer on the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway and was project director for Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. He also undertook a review of HS2 for the prime minister in January 2020, having previously advised Boris Johnson on aspirations for a new London airport in the Thames estuary.
Gordon Masterson is a previous vice-president of Jacobs Engineering and also a past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers and of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He is a former chairman of the Construction Industry Council and founder and current chairman of the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame. He was the UK government’s project representative on Crossrail and chairs the independent assurance panel for the HS2 high-speed rail link. He is chair of Future Infrastructure at the University of Edinburgh.
Not everyone is keen on the idea. Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O'Neill, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, said: "The pipe dream bridge between the North and Scotland is a smokescreen for the Brexit fallout amongst the unionists who engineered it on both sides of the Irish Sea."