Book review

by Terry Gourvis

BRITAIN'S Cabinet Office commissioned this account of the epic struggle to link Britain and France which spanned the second half of the last century, and the author has had full access to official papers.

The result is a gripping insight into the awesome complexities of achieving harmony not only between London and Paris, but also between the often conflicting interests of the public and private sectors - what Gourvish calls 'the quadripartite quilt of decision-making'.

The first project started with formation of the Channel Tunnel Study Group in July 1957 and ended with unilateral abandonment by the UK Labour government in January 1975, after preliminary works had started. Officially, this was blamed on failure to ratify the Treaty by a deadline, but British Rail's mishandling of the rail connection to London proved the last straw.

Ironically, it was BR under Sir Peter Parker that got things moving again in the late 1970s, with its single-bore, single-track 'mousehole' proposal, but the Tunnel that opened in May 1994 was very similar to the CTSG's plan unveiled in 1960.

Gourvish concludes that 'the history of the largest project of the 20th century, chaotic as it has sometimes been, represents the supreme triumph of political will and entrepreneurial optimism over economic scepticism'.

£49·95 from Routledge, 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, OX14 4RN, UK Tel: +44 20 7017 6000