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Expiry date looming for Narrow Water Bridge plans

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

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THE group behind the Narrow Water Bridge proposal has been left disappointed by an apparent lack of progress given the looming expiry of planning permission.

The Narrow Water Stakeholder Group met for the third time last month in a meeting organised by the Department for Infrastructure, now the lead in this project.

Planning permission granted for the long running project is due to expire in eight months' time.

The new bridge was to connect the A2 near Warrenpoint at Narrow Water to the R173 near Omeath.

Very little progress on the scheme has been publicly reported in recent months, however, in January former DFI Minister Chris Hazzard released two press releases in a week mentioning the scheme.

In the first, he referenced a meeting with the key stakeholders and this happened last month.

At the meeting, representatives from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, DFI, Narrow Water Bridge Community Network, East Border Region, Louth County Council, Warrenpoint Harbour Authority, North South Ministerial Council, and Newry and Warrenpoint Chamber of Commerce.

The DFI had hoped "both the Narrow Water Bridge and Southern Relief Road projects would be taken forward as complementary projects".

The Southern Relief Road would see the A1 Newry bypass connected directly to the A2 Warrenpoint Road.

Ray O'Leary from the Republic's Department of Transport Tourism and Sport said it was "apparent that the Narrow Water Bridge project would be more than a bridge".

“It would incorporate an overall vision and development strategy, in particular to develop tourism for the region.

“It was important that whatever bridge structure was built that it would link to and build upon the overall strategy for the cross border region," Mr O'Leary told those in attendance at the stakeholder meeting.

However, while many voiced their strong support of the current design for the project, "disappointment was expressed that it appeared that no progress had been made in bringing forward the project especially in view of the fact that planning approval for the project was due to expire in November 2017".

Previously Chris Hazzard said that he was "determined" to take this forward as a "priority with a view to reaching early agreement and enabling construction to begin by 2019, subject to funding and statutory procedures".

All those in attendance at the stakeholder meeting agreed that the key objectives of the scheme were that "the project should link the two communities north and south", that it should "encourage and enhance overall tourism in the cross border region" and it should "protect the natural environment north and south".

During the meeting reference was made to the fact that the bridge is needed to enhance local access and tourism development .

However, it is "not intended as a measure to address the huge strategic traffic problem in Newry".

On 25 January, the former DFI Minister and his counterpart in the Republic jointly stated their commitment to progressing the scheme.

The DFI planned last month to bring a paper to the North South Ministerial Council this summer outlining the best way forward.

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