Letter: Beware of the Solway Firth

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The Independent Online
Beware of the Solway Firth

Sir: News of a plan for a Western Water Highway which would allow ships to cross northern England between Carlisle and Newcastle ("Waterway to follow Hadrian to the sea", 20 September) is heartening: it fires the imagination much as the Morecambe Bay and Severn Estuary barrage schemes did in times past.

Those proposals, however, went on to absorb millions of pounds in feasibility studies, and before the Western Water Highway is allowed to do the same it would be prudent to consider the difficulty of using the Solway Firth as the western approach.

The wide mouth of the Firth is very exposed to westerly gales, the effects of which are worsened by the Solway's shallow waters and fast tides. Siltation is a problem too: flood tides carry in and deposit far more sediment than ebb tides and the flow from the rivers can remove.

The cost of maintaining a dredged channel for shipping would be hopelessly prohibitive. If there really is a need for an east-west waterway, an expansion of the existing Forth-Clyde Canal, which has ports and deeper, more sheltered firths at each end, might prove to be a more rewarding venture.