Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Fresh hopes for Narrow Water Bridge as Relief Road merger proposed

There are fresh hopes that the stalled Narrow Water Bridge project could be kick-started again after a key figure in the business and planning permission for the scheme presented a new proposal which would involve merging the original bridge plan with the Newry City Southern Relief Road scheme.

Michael Curran, the former director of economic and cross-border development at Louth County Council,  said he believes integrating the two projects “makes a lot of sense,” and would provide “significant transport benefits for the region along with the tourism benefits which the original scheme would offer”.

Proposals to build the cross-border road bridge, across the Newry River linking counties Down and Louth collapsed in 2013 after it emerged that the  €18m originally budgeted for the project was at least €12m below what was needed.  Stormont then pulled out of the scheme after the withdrawal of European Union funding.

Mr Curran, who was involved in helping to secure EU funding for the original Narrow Water Bridge, also worked with Newry and Mourne Council at the time to investigate access to Warrenpoint port from the M1, known as the Newry City Southern Relief Road.

Before his retirement in 2014 he was part of a group on Louth County Council that investigated the possibility of merging the two projects.  Last week, he revealed that the new proposal had been presented to both the Irish government and Stormont, with “a very positive response” received.

“The bridge connection together with this ‘relief road’ link to the motorway would remove a considerable quantity of port traffic from Newry thus relieving congestion in the town and removing bottlenecks,” he said.

Outlining the significant reduction in costs for the integrated scheme, Mr Curran said,

“The estimated construction costs for the two schemes are significantly different, with the current estimates for the Newry scheme to be in the region of €200m, as opposed to our estimated costs for the Narrow Water Bridge and road upgrade scheme to be in the order of €55m,” he said.

“We consider that this scheme offers all the benefits of the proposed NI scheme and includes for significant road improvements on the existing road network in two EU jurisdictions which would offer economic benefits to the region as a whole.

“If grant aid of 40 per cent can be achieved through the Trans-European Network policy, then we would envisage the works on the bridge to proceed.

“The road upgrade and relief road section can be phased over the next three years.

“If we can achieve financial assistance from the two jurisdictions north and south, then we would anticipate the total funding requirement from each government/ council authority/ road service to be of the order of €4.12m per year over a four year period.”

“The east coast of Ireland needs this development if we want to develop the tourist potential in the Mourne/ Cooley region, give access to Warrenpoint and Greenore Port traffic, our local industry and bringing both communities closer together, ” he said.

“The potential for the Mourne region is enormous with the development and regeneration of towns and villages, not to mention the development of rural communities.

“As an individual, I want to see it happen. To open up the Mournes will open up the north even more than before.

“We should be thinking of young people and their futures and are going to create jobs for them.

“There’s so much potential for the Narrow Water Bridge project and potential for tourism on both sides of the border.”

The integrated proposal has drawn mixed reactions from political representatives with Sinn Féin South Down assembly candidate Caitríona Ruane insisting that both initiatives are “two separate projects with separate timeframes.”

“The Narrow Water Bridge project is shovel ready with planning permission on both sides of the border and Sinn Féin is committed to see it delivered,” she said.

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said such an idea had been suggested before and was worth considering.

“All avenues must be explored in order to ensure we achieve a Narrow Water Bridge Project,” she said.

“The bottom line is this will be one of the most significant north-south projects. I look forward to the ongoing work that is taking place between officials on the North South Council, which is to report back in June this year to a meeting.

“This has to be promoted and has to be funded by both the Irish government and the Northern Ireland Executive.”