UK Infrastructure

map of canal route

Pownall Contour Canal

UK Infrastructure

We need to make some big infrastructure investments in the UK. The question is which ones, and for what outcomes.

Currently the Coalition government seems set to spend £100 billion on replacing Trident. A vast waste of money on anachronistic Cold War technology totally unsuited to the World we now find ourselves in. Let’s scrape it and use the money elsewhere in the economy.

Phase One of the HS2 high speed rail link from London to Birmingham looks set to go ahead, at a cost estimated to be between £15.8 and £17.4 billion. The full route up to Manchester and Leeds will cost about £30 billion. Transporting larger numbers of people a bit more quickly between our major cities seems a somewhat limited aspiration, given the cost, and the impact on the local environment. We could do better.

The London Array has recently started generating electricity. The first phase, consisting of 175 Siemens 3.6 MW turbines, giving a capacity of 630 MW and costing 2.2 billion Euros or approximately £1.76 billion should be complete within a couple of months. This will make a useful contribution to the UK energy supply at a reasonable cost.

A potential infrastructure project with multiple benefits has been promoted by David Weight on the Claverton Energy discussion group, and into which our government should conduct a feasibility study. Essentially the plan is to build a large new canal, following the 310ft contour line, as advocated by Pownall in 1942, but extending northwards at least as far as Kielder Water, and preferably into Scotland’s Southern Uplands. The proposal is to bring water from the areas of surplus in Scotland, Northumberland and Wales to the areas of greatest shortage in the southeast of England, for agricultural, industrial and domestic use: very useful as we adapt to a changing climate.

The canal would also be used for transport, especially for heavy goods such as timber for biomass, and also for recreational use. The really exciting aspect of the proposal is for it to be used for energy storage and transmission. Water cooled High Voltage Direct Current cables would be laid along the route, bringing the abundant renewable energy from Scotland and Wales to the centres of maximum demand in the major English cities. The canal itself could be used for pumped storage hydro by having subsidiary reservoirs at higher and lower levels along the route, but especially in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Many existing thermal power stations such as Drax are already located along the route and increasingly using biomass to replace some of their coal consumption. New biomass power stations, fitted with carbon capture and storage, may be located along the route. Surplus heat from all these power stations could be fed into district heating systems and used in intensive greenhouse horticulture.

The canal might also be a useful route for fibre optic data transmission, and high energy consumption data centres might be located in the Southern Uplands where the renewable energy potential is most abundant. There would be huge scope for new urban development, and it has been suggested that this planning gain might be used to pay for the whole project. Nature reserves could be strung all along the route maximizing its biodiversity and recreational potential. A cycle path could easily be incorporated. At an estimated cost of between £11.1 and £18.0 billion this could be a very good investment: certainly worth a detailed feasibility study.


High Speed 2:-

London Array:-

The Canal Proposal:-