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No demand for Irish Sea Bridge

Published 30 December 2020 by Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland has published its evidence submitted to the Union Connectivity Review, the call for submissions for which ends today.

In our evidence, we find that there is no evidence base in travel demand terms for a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Instead we recommend that significant improvements could be made to public transport access to the ferry terminal at Cairnryan.

In our evidence, we find that there has been a 10% decline in ferry passenger traffic since 2008 (from 1,938,000 to 1,750,000). While CAA data shows a 20% increase in air passengers from 827,857 in 2008 to 989,610 in 2019, the overall result is that there has been a decline in the overall travel market between Scotland and Northern Ireland over the past decade. This period has also seen a reduction in travel origins/destinations, with the removal of ferry services to Northern Ireland from Stranraer and Troon, and air services from Dundee and Prestwick.

Loch Ken Viaduct by James Johnstone (CC BY 2.0), part of the closed rail route from Dumfries to Stranraer.

Transform director Colin Howden said:

“There is simply no case in terms of travel demand for a fixed link across the Irish Sea. There has actually been a decline in the overall travel market between Scotland and Northern Ireland over the past decade.

“Compared to Anglo-Scottish travel, where aviation provides the bulk of passenger travel and HGVs most goods traffic, transport from Scotland across the Irish Sea involves the comparatively more sustainable modes of ferries and shipping.

“What is required is the improvement of public transport links to the port of Cairnryan, so that more passenger journeys to Northern Ireland can be made entirely by sustainable modes.”

Transform Scotland recommend:

  1. Improving direct bus links from Edinburgh/Glasgow/Dumfries/Carlisle to Cairnryan;
  2. Improving bus interchange from key points on the rail network (e.g. Ayr, Dumfries);
  3. Improving the Ayr-Stranraer railway line;
  4. Extending the Ayr-Stranraer line to Cairnryan; and
  5. Reopening the (Carlisle-)Dumfries-Stranraer railway line.