No funding to bridge the gap at Narrow Water

July 29, 2013

Plans for the much anticipated Narrow Water Bridge are in turmoil after it was revealed last week that no more money will be made available to cover a multi-million pound funding shortfall.

The cross-border project, which was set to span Carlingford Lough between Omeath and Narrow Water Castle was thrown into doubt in recent weeks when Louth County Council revealed that the costing of the bridge had been underestimated by a staggering 10m to 25m (Euro).

Initially the scheme was estimated to cost around 17.5 million (Euro) with the EU providing most of the funding, but tenders have now come back ranging from 26m (Euro) to 40m (Euro).

Ministers on both sides of the border have indicated they will not be meeting the massive shortfall.  Leo Varadkar, the Republic’s Transport Minister said the cost of the bridge was well beyond what had been projected and that, while his own department and Louth County Council may be willing to meet some of the extra costs, Northern Ireland’s Department of Regional Development would also have to contribute funds.

Additional funding from the Department of Regional Development has however been ruled out after Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed he would not sanction any further funds for the scheme. Mr Wilson, who spent several months pondering the executive’s £2.7million contribution before finally signing off on it in May, said he was always sceptical that the project could be completed within the original budget and that he strongly believed the scheme would now flounder.

Supporters of the bridge from both sides of the border remain hopeful of securing extra funding, with vociferous supporter, Fianna Fail TD Seamus Kirk calling for Mr Varadkar “not to close the door” on the plans. He has implored the Minister to visit the region once again to see the “transformative” effect the proposed bridge will have and to show his support for the years of work and  lobbying carried out by successive governments in the Republic to bring the proposal to fruition, rather than allow it to “disintegrate” over what could be as little as 6m extra funding from the Republic.

A joint statement has also been issued from both councils following a meeting of the Louth Newry and Mourne Joint Committee last week. The Joint Committee agreed to develop an innovative and robust action plan to secure the additional funding necessary, with senior officials from both councils instructed to investigate the possibility of sourcing all types of funding options to guarantee the future development of the Narrow Water Bridge. The Joint Committee said positive signals had already been received from a number of funding sources.

Councillor Declan Breathnach, Chairman of Louth Local Authorities insisted the development of the Narrow Water Bridge was essential for the continued economic revival of the Louth and South Down regions and called on all involved parties and political groups to support its future development.

Mayor of Newry and Mourne, Councillor Michael Ruane, echoed those sentiments revealing that the successful development of the project, which he said has been high on Newry and Mourne District Council’s Capital Programme for a number of years, will greatly assist in the growth of tourism, economic regeneration and social relationships in the respective areas.

“No stone should be left unturned in the final effort to make the Bridge Project a reality,” said the Mayor.

With financial wrangling set to continue over the controversial project which was proposed more than half a century ago, time is now running out as the late August deadline for drawing down EU funds fast approaches.