Revealed: Secret report that sank bay bridge

The Guardian can today disclose details of a secret report which killed off plans for a bridge across Morecambe Bay.

The 116-page draft feasibility study – marked “confidential” – was drawn up for the Northwest Regional Development Agency in 2009 but has never been published.

We can reveal that its findings sparked a furious behind-the-scenes row between the original backers of the scheme, the agency and its hired consultants, which is still simmering today.

The report, obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, is a review of the business plan drawn up by Bridge Across the Bay Ltd (BatB), a private company headed by Staveley-based property developer David Brockbank.

BatB said the 18km bridge between Heysham and Rampside, near Barrow, would cost £677m to build and would generate annual income of £84m, including £11m from tolls and £63m from wind and tidal energy.

The NWDA’s consultants, headed by Altrincham-based Regeneris, disputed these figures. They said the bridge would cost £2.34billion to build and would only generate £51.6m of annual income – £2.8m from tolls, £39.4m from wind turbines and £9m from tidal power.

Regeneris said the bridge was “not a financially viable proposition” because net operating revenues of £40.8m could only sustain borrowings of £470m, leaving a £1.6billion funding gap and no possibility of providing a return to equity investors who were expected to stump up 30 per cent of the building costs.

The report concludes: “We see no case for the NWDA supporting further work....the bridge’s costs are out of proportion relative to its regeneration and transportation benefits; and it would also present significant environmental damage.”

Regeneris does concede, however, that there may be a case for “further assessment of the tidal potential of Morecambe Bay.”