A BRIDGE between Scotland and Ireland would be a waste of time and money as links to better markets already exist, a senior engineer has said.
Gordon Masterton, past President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, believes that the funds needed to finance such a hugely ambitious project would be better spent on links with the rest of the UK and Europe rather than across the Irish Sea.
The idea of a combined rail and road bridge is back in the headlines again following Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's comments about a link above the English Channel between Britain and France.
Proponents have envisaged a viaduct similar to the 5-mile Oresund which links Denmark and Sweden, using a mix of pylons and a tunnel.
However, Mr Masterton said that any similar structure between Scotland and Ireland would have to overcome substantial engineering challenges while major infrastructure work would also been needed before it would be of any use.
He said: "It's not a new idea. There have been various ideas for bridges or tunnels between Scotland and Ireland down the years, although none of them has been properly costed or studied in any great detail.
"A fixed link between the two countries is all well and good if there are benefits to be had, but no-one has explained what they could be in any great detail.
"I would have thought that a far more effective way to spend the funds you would need for the bridge would be to extend the HS2 high-speed railway into Scotland and improve links with the rest of the UK and further afield in Europe."
Mr Masterton said that any bridge would have to be able to withstand very fierce weather and would have to be high enough to escape the waves and allow ships to slip under.
He said that it would be done in sections linked by pylons sunk deep into the seabed to rest on the bedrock, while pontoons could also be used for some sections, but major technical challenges would have to be overcome before the bridge to Ireland could be a reality.
One of the biggest obstacles is Beaufort’s Dyke, a 31-mile long sea trench more than 200m deep which runs across the bottom of the Irish Sea, while even getting to the bridge would require costly upgrades to Scotland's roads.
Two routes have been suggested for a crossing - Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway to Belfast Cambletown Mull of Kintyre to Antrim.
However, both lack decent transport links to the rest of Scotland.
Mr Masterton said: "It's all very well building a bridge, but then you have to connect it to the rest of Scotland and the cost of the whole project would have to reflect that.
"The project is not just the bridge, it's the approach roads which in this case would go all the way back to the Central Belt."
The engineer added: "It's good to have people thinking about large-scale projects which fire the imagination, but you have to focus on where the benefits will be and if there would be any value for money."
Boris Johnson raised the prospect of a bridge as it was announced that Britain and France were setting up a panel of experts to look at joint infrastructure projects.
But Downing Street appeared to pour cold water on the idea, saying there was no plan for the bridge. The English Channel bridge, which would have to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane, with 500 vessels passing each day, was also criticised by maritime chiefs.