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60 years Since the British and French Governments Announced Plans For the Construction of the Channel Tunnel

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Authored by Alice Broome
Published on 6th February, 2024 3 min read

60 years Since the British and French Governments Announced Plans For the Construction of the Channel Tunnel

Today (06/02/2024) marks 60 years since the British and French governments announced plans for the construction of the Channel Tunnel. 

A statement from the Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, declared that as

a result of studies undertaken jointly, Her Majesty's Government and the French Government consider that the construction of a rail Channel Tunnel is technically possible and that in economic terms it would represent a sound investment of the two countries' resources. The two Governments have therefore decided to go ahead with this project. The next step will be to discuss further, in particular, the legal and financial problems involved.[1]

The earliest proposal for a tunnel connecting England and France was put forward in 1802 by Albert Mathieu-Favier, a mining engineer. He envisaged a tunnel for horse-drawn coaches, lit by oil lamps. There were numerous attempts to realise plans for a channel tunnel in the years that followed. It wasn’t until 1964, however, that the British and French governments agreed (in principle) to its construction. 

To determine the feasibility of the plans, geological surveys, including drilling down into the floor of the channel, began in the summer of 1964. The drilling continued for longer than anticipated and this is when doubts over the project began to emerge.

MPs sought assurance that the construction project would not be subject to the same spending cuts that Harold Wilson’s Labour government had imposed on ministerial departments. The government responded with confidence in 1965, claiming that the tunnel would be completed within five years and that it would cost approximately £160 million.

October 1966 saw the introduction of private finance to fund the project. Three banking groups raised £200 million. Their plans were halted when, in January 1968, it was announced that the cost of construction had risen to £250 million. In May 1968 the government set up an independent committee to oversee the tunnel project. 

Delays ensued. By July 1969 it was estimated that the project would cost nearer to £500–£600 million, although the government maintained that it would cost £350 million. In May 1970 the Minister of Transport admitted that the government would not make a decision until at least 1972, and that, at the earliest, construction would begin in 1977.

The British government commissioned yet another survey in 1971. This predicted the cost at £500 million. A signing ceremony that was planned between the two governments in June 1973 was delayed and the expected cost was updated to £1.1 billion.

Construction finally began in November 1973. Yet this was widely unpopular. Britain was being hit by austerity and spending cuts. Hence, Edward Heath’s Conservative government came under pressure regarding the cost of the tunnel. Only a few weeks after construction started, the French government proposed that the project be paused. 

On 20 January 1975 the British government, led by Harold Wilson, eventually decided to pull out of the project. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Anthony Crosland, announced the decision to the House of Commons. His statement referred to inflation and cost as the main reasons for ending the project.

Of course, the Channel Tunnel was built. The resumption of construction was agreed upon in 1987. The Channel Tunnel officially opened in 1994 and cost £4.65 billion—24 years late and £4.49 billion more expensive than was originally envisioned. 

[1] https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1964/feb/06/the-channel-tunnel 


Authored by Alice Broome

Alice Broome

Alice Broome is an Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives. She is a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics graduate from the University of York.


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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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