Downing Street has responded to Boris Johnsons’s suggestion of a cross-Channel bridge, saying there are no current plans for a new fixed link from Britain to France.
The Foreign Secretary suggested the idea of a bridge between the UK and mainland Europe following a summit attended by the PM and French president Emmanuel Macron at Sandhurst on Thursday.
Mr Johnson said it was: “crazy that two of the biggest economies in the world are connected by one railway line when they are only 20 miles apart” and suggested a bridge between the two, sparking debate over whether such a project would be possible, let alone value for money.
Experts ridiculed the idea, with one saying it would be easier and cheaper to “just move France closer”.
Asked if the Prime Minister supported Mr Johnson’s idea of a new bridge, a Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “I haven’t seen any plans on that.”
He added: “What was agreed yesterday, and I think that’s what the Foreign Secretary tweeted about as well, is a panel of experts who will look at major projects together including infrastructure.”
What would a cross-Channel bridge look like?
Bridge designer Ian Firth, a past president of the Institution of Structural Engineers, told the BBC: “Of course this would not be one big span – the economics may lean towards something like 800m-1km spans.
“It would be a huge undertaking, but it would be absolutely possible…”
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Dave Parker, technical editor of New Civil Engineer magazine, also told the BBC that the project could see artificial islands built in the Channel, linked to the shore by viaduct and joined to one another by a tunnel – which would avoid impacting on one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
He suggested the islands could become venues for attractions like hotels, casinos and duty-free shops.
What are the issues with building a bridge across the Channel?
The main concern is how a bridge would affect the major shipping lane that runs through the Channel, prompting the UK Chamber of Shipping to tweet: “Building a huge concrete structure in the middle of the world’s busiest shipping lane might come with some challenges”.
Building a huge concrete structure in the middle of the world’s busiest shipping lane might come with some challenges. https://t.co/jYD5O8B19W
— UK Shipping (@ukshipping) January 18, 2018
But Ian Firth said while the project would be a huge undertaking, shipping issues could be dealt with.
How have experts reacted to the bridge idea?
Experts ridiculed Mr Johnson’s plan, with one saying it would be easier to “move France closer”.
Architect Alan Dunlop, professor at the University of Liverpool, told The Times: “After the Garden Bridge debacle, where Boris Johnson as mayor of London apparently disregarded planning rules, spent £60 million of public cash and a further £37 million was wasted, you would think he would stay clear of building any more bridges. Any sensible person would.”
He added: “It would be easier, and less expensive to just move France closer.”
Fellow architect Ian Ritchie told The Times that Mr Johnson should be kept away from the environment and the Channel and “leave the fish alone”.
How have other people reacted?
It’s not only experts who have questioned Mr Johnson’s plan.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, greeted his plan with derision, tweeting: “I ignored this earlier because I assumed it wasn’t real. Apparently it is. I mean … who are these clowns claiming to run our country?”
I ignored this earlier because I assumed it wasn't real. Apparently it is. I mean…who are these clowns claiming to run our country? https://t.co/mgGz13xTl8
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) January 19, 2018
Dover Tory MP Charlie Elphicke agreed with a call for more infrastructure to promote trade between Britain and France, but focused on slightly smaller-scale projects than a cross-Channel bridge.
He said: “Boris is right. We absolutely must invest in infrastructure to keep trade flowing between Britain and France.
“Let’s start by dualling the A2 to Dover, building the Lower Thames Crossing and lorry parks on the M20. Surely it’s not a bridge too far for the Government to invest in Kent?”
What are some of Boris Johnson’s other grand plans?
Mr Johnson’s bridge proposal is the latest in a succession of grandiose projects which he has championed.
His call for a “Boris Island” airport in the Thames Estuary was rejected by an inquiry looking into the expansion of air capacity in the South East, and plans for a garden bridge in central London were ditched by his successor Sadiq Khan on value-for-money grounds.
The Emirates cable car linking north and south London near the former Millennium Dome did get built, but has faced criticism over limited passenger numbers.