If a bridge to France is a technical possibility, it is worthy of consideration
By Richard Digard
FUNNY how folk react to things. Ask me about a bridge to France, for instance, and I’d immediately wonder whether it was technically possible. It is? Neat, bring it on.
You see, I’m a sucker for big infrastructure projects. They’re inherently exciting and we all like seeing stuff being done. Especially when that leads to sustainable and positive economic benefits. So sticking with the bridge example, I’d then be asking what the advantages are.
Yet so many in Jersey have reacted to Kevin Keen’s suggestion about a physical link to France in a frankly baffling way. It would end the Island’s independence, destroy its way of life and wipe out its culture, identity and people, social media foamed and fretted.
Eh? Are you all mad? That stuff’s long gone. It was sold out/replaced (delete according to age and wealth) when folk realised that working in an office with a couple of holidays a year and a centrally heated home was preferable to digging potatoes in the driving rain or rioting in the street because the States just devalued the liard to six to the sou – as they did in 1729.
Fewer than half of you are proper Crapauds; your birth rate’s falling and without immigration Jersey has no future. Well, unless you wish to return to eating vraic and limpets I suppose.
So, forget about the good old days. Despite your fond-but-faulty memories, no one wants to return to Izal (ask your gran) and outside privvies.
Which means maintaining a vibrant economy with well-paid jobs, a congenial tax regime and plenty of reasons for people to want to come here – or, increasingly, remain here.
Guernsey has similar problems. Or, if you’re Gus from Drop the Dead Donkey, ‘opportunities’. So one of our leading business leaders has suggested a tunnel to Jersey.
Think about it a bit, and you realise that the 20 minute drive means Guernsey could abandon its airport and use yours instead, because it’s bigger, better and with greater connectivity. In return, Jersey gets to use Guernsey’s non-tidal harbour and access times to St Helier are actually reduced.
Link the two islands to France and the possibilities suddenly explode. A major, modern hospital an hour’s drive away? That’ll do nicely for two islands trying to justify full health services on cottage hospital populations.
I’m not going to labour this because the bridge – and our tunnel – is at this stage a flight of fancy. But it has merit because other remote communities elsewhere have benefitted hugely from such links and been able to fund them.
So why not here? Realistically, the only thing preventing such developments is our own narrow-mindedness and, to be blunt, prejudices.
I mean, what’s wrong with thinking the unthinkable? After all, with a straight face Jersey is contemplating a 100-year plan to protect the Island from rising sea levels.
Good luck with that. The last time a Jerseyman looked around and mused, ‘you know, that’s a bloney high tide’, you were still part of France and Doggerland was being engulfed by a megatsunami caused by a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway.
True, that was back in 6200BC and civil engineering has moved on a bit, but expecting to protect all 70km of your coastline is still a mammoth undertaking.
It’s also expensive (although as yet uncosted), which means there’s a certain irony to the project.
If you look at it this way, Jersey’s gearing up without a murmur to spend colossal amounts erecting walls around itself but won’t contemplate reaching out to build bridges with its French cousins.
I find that odd, especially since your economy is pretty fragile. An analysis by accountant Richard Hemans in the CI magazine Business Brief shows GDP per capita here is 17% below Guernsey’s.
Crucially, he says, Jersey’s dependence on finance, and banking in particular, is falling ‘but it is struggling to replace it with another engine of growth’.
Cue Mr Keen’s bridge. If feasible, there’s a guaranteed income stream and what should be a real engine for growth – possibly more relevant now given the question marks over Condor and your popular French connection since the ferry company’s up for sale.
So, ask me about a bridge to France and I’d have to be convinced that it physically couldn’t be done before dropping the idea. There’s too much to be gained if you can turn that vision into reality.