A leading construction boss has poured cold water on claims made by the outspoken former foreign secretary Boris Johnson that the creation of two bridges would boost trade and help mitigate the impact of Brexit on the UK.
Instead, “less glamorous” underground metro systems are seen to be the golden ticket for the UK in ensuring it is better prepared to retain its global competitiveness. The UK construction group say £140bn could be spent to improve the mass transit infrastructure in 11 cities including Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Bristol, Leeds, Southampton, Aberdeen, Cardiff, Leicester, and Nottingham.
It comes after recent suggestions made by Johnson who has backed proposals for a Celtic Crossing and English Channel bridge. The former spanning the Irish Sea that would have connected Portpatrick in Dumfries to Galloway and Larne in Northern Ireland at an approximate cost of £20bn. The latter would be a crossing stretching 34 miles which experts suggest could cost as much as £120bn.
Research carried out by Scape shows there is similar public ill-feeling towards the potential bridges with 58% of the British public seeing them as little more than “vanity projects”.
According to the study, four times as many Brits would rather see modest underground systems built for the 11 major cities in the UK.
Scape believe a lack of mass transit could explain why cities in the UK, outside of the south east, perform worse than cities in France and Germany with only 27% of Britain’s “world cities” benefitting from underground systems. This is in comparison to the 64% of global cities in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy which are home to underground metro systems.
Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, says despite the public’s negative attitude to the bridge concepts, this does not mean people are set against spending on infrastructure projects in general. He believes investing in metros could help make the UK “match fit for Brexit”.
“Infrastructure is vital to the effective and efficient functioning of society,” he added. “Investing in underground systems across the UK would be an effective way of creating a productive and functioning workforce – and levelling the playfield with our European peers. The UK’s ability to compete on the world stage will be challenged outside the European Union.”
The UK construction company has highlighted the Seville metro as the possible design for the UK to copy which would not result in vast amounts of money being spent.
A small metro system in each city, comparable to that of the Spanish city (metropolitan population: 1.5m) would be a good start in Robinson’s eyes. Metro de Sevilla is an 11-mile light metro network serving Seville and its metropolitan area. Work on the system started in late 2003 and was completed in April 2009. The cost was approximately €673m in 2013 which equates to approximately €700m today – or £630m.
Robinson said: “Metro de Sevilla might not be a perfect blueprint for the construction of metro systems across the UK – it suffered from some poor design and the discovery of archaeological remains which increased time and costs. It was finished more than two years after the initial planned completion date and overran its initial estimated cost of €428m. However, Metro de Sevilla shows that underground projects need not come with a Crossrail-esque £18bn price tag. Reducing journey times by road - by getting more people onto credible public transport alternatives and easing congestion – could have productivity benefits of up to 14%.”
Another conclusion of the study conducted by Scape identifies the need to not be so London focused when it comes to infrastructure development and investment.
It points out that Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool have just 17 miles of underground track between them, meaning that three of the four cities in the UK with underground systems are relatively small to affect a meaningful impact on urban transit. Survey respondents echoed the thoughts of the construction boss with 75% said they thought the UK’s current investment in metro systems was too focused on the capital.
Robinson added: “We can’t afford to keep ploughing money into infrastructure improvement projects that only benefit London. It’s essential that cities across the country are provided with funding to help their local economies grow. Our current London-centric approach will only widen regional disparities.”