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a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Straddling the North Channel (pt. II)

As some of you may know, I choose to lead a bit of a double life. I divide my time between sunny Belfast and sunny Glasgow. Although neither is really my home town, I have close family connections on either side of the Irish Sea and I have very similar love/hate relationships with both cities. Surprisingly I’ve been mugged more times in Belfast than in Glasgow, but it still seems to have a stronger hold on my heart.

A week or two ago I ranted and raved over here about the imminent demise of Northern Ireland’s last remaining ‘Rail and Sail’ connection to the mainland. The upshot of the situation is that Stena Line desperately need to find a more fuel efficient boat than their last remaining HSS fast ferry, which plies the North Channel four times a day between Belfast and Stranraer. Having already moved to a new terminal as close to the mouth of Belfast Lough as they could get, they’ve now won permission from the Scottish Government to build a new ferry terminal closer to the mouth of Loch Ryan than the existing (and admittedly very shabby) one in Stranraer. This has lead to all manner of excitement about shorter sea crossings between Northern Ireland and Scotland, when in fact they will be shorter only in geographic length, not actual journey times. By replacing the Stena HSS with conventional ferries, journeys to the new port will be no faster than they currently are.

In their wisdom, and with complete disinterest for the people of Northern Ireland whom they do not represent, the Scottish Parliament’s Loch Ryan Port (Harbour Empowerment) Order 2009 breaks the link between the ferry and the train. Prior to the privatisation of British Rail, multiple daily trains connected with British Rail Sealink ferries at Stranraer. There was a direct overnight train to London, as well as regional trains to Newcastle, Carlisle, Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow. Only the last two survive, and they look very vulnerable without a ferry that “supposedly” (see my rant) connects with them.

To rub some salt in the wound, although without much surprise, Ryanair announced yesterday that they are quitting Belfast City Airport. Three years to the day after they started service to the airport (who would dare accuse Ryanair of being subsidy bunnies dependent on 36 month deals with airports?) the last flight will depart on 30 October 2010. If nothing else, the McClay Library and David Keir Building will be more peaceful places for me to work in, without the meaty roar of Ryanair’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft flying overhead.

As usual, Ryanair are blaming everyone but themselves for the end of these services. They also claim as many as 1,000 will lose jobs as a result of NI’s planning system, which has yet to approve an extension to Belfast City Airport’s runway. Ryanair need the extension because their planes (unlike those of Easyjet, BMI and FlyBe) can’t reach any international destinations with a full load from the existing runway. They could of course head up to road to Belfast International Airport (you know, the one with ‘International’ in it’s name) but generally don’t like going head to head with their competition. Easyjet, Jet2 and others who offer plenty of escape routes to continental Europe from the International.

My sympathies are with the friendly and professional Ryanair crews based in Belfast. They often greet me by name, and are the hardest working I’ve seen anywhere, completing all inflight sales and services in the 20-25 minute journey over to Prestwick. They now have two months notice to pack their bags, get out of their residential leases, and move to another Ryanair base.

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