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If all goes to plan construction work could begin on the long talked about Narrow Water Bridge as early as 2023 after an announcement was made today that €3m in funding from the Shared Island Fund has been allocated to bring the project to tender stage. The bridge would link Warrenpoint to Omeath.

An announcement made by Taoiseach Micheál Martin this morning seems to tick all the boxes, as the decision is based on existing planning permission granted originally back in 2012, which appears to be still current, and most importantly includes an opening bridge as part of the design.

An artists impression of how the bridge would look like from the Flagstaff. Image courtesy Roughan & O'Donovan
An artists impression of how the bridge would look like from the Flagstaff. Image courtesy Roughan & O'Donovan

The decision to proceed with an opening bridge for this project would call into question plans by the Department for Infrastructure to proceed with their preferred option of a fixed bridge over Newry Canal as part of the proposed Southern Relief Road just 5 miles up the road!

The money will see the project brought to tender stage, based on the current design of the bridge and existing planning permission and further funding will be allocated from the Shared Island Fund, once the due diligence process has been completed and the final costs of the project are determined.

Delivery Determination

Making the announcement Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD said he was determined that this long talked about project would be delivered “I am delighted that work on the Narrow Water Bridge is now progressing, supported by funding from the Shared Island Fund. This project was first proposed decades ago, and has been a long standing and highly symbolic Government commitment, as reflected in the Stormont House-Fresh Start and New Decade New Approach agreements. 

“I am determined that the repeated commitment to build the Narrow Water Bridge will now be delivered upon.

“The bridge will link the Mourne Mountains and Cooley peninsula, providing huge tourism and connectivity boosts in the east border region, and will act as a key enabler for improved cross-border active travel and recreation activities including the development of greenways, walking trails and park amenities. 

“The Narrow Water Bridge is a true all-island project, with strong cross-party political support North and South. It will open up new and exciting opportunities, with huge potential for the local and wider economy. Today’s announcement is yet another example of the agility of the Shared Island Fund in unlocking and progressing long standing infrastructure commitments and I welcome the renewed momentum and energy which has been breathed back into this project”.

Planning permission is in place for a landmark 280m cable stayed bridge, anchored by two towers at either end, for car and cycle traffic. It will connect the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual carriageway with the R173 Omeath and will have the ability to open to allow for passage of ships through and on to the Newry Canal. It will also provide access to a range of cross border active travel and recreational activities including the Carlingford Lough Greenway, mountain bike trails, walking routes and beaches.

A Pivotal Moment

Councillor Michael Savage has welcomed the news and praised his party colleague Sinead Bradley for her work “This is fantastic news for South Down, County Louth and our wider district. This has happened due to the intervention of my party colleague Sinead Bradley MLA who ensured that the project was included in the New Decade New Approach deal and a firm commitment by SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon that she would deliver on the Northern commitments to the scheme and a promise that has been kept by an Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Cllr Michael Savage

“This is a pivotal moment for the Project and I reflect on the work that Sinead’s dad the late PJ Bradley put into this project to keep it on the agenda for decades even through the worst of times during our troubled past. 

“PJ would be a very proud man today. 

“Also thanks to Cllr Declan McAteer and other SDLP colleagues and Senator Erin McGreehan who have also worked tirelessly to deliver the bridge. This is a giant step forward but we must remain focused and continue to press on now and deliver the bridge as soon as possible.”

Vital Piece of Infrastructure

South Down MLA Sinead Ennis also welcomed progress toward the delivery of the Narrow Water Bridge project with funding committed by the Irish government. Ms Ennis said “I welcome the fact that the Irish government have committed €3m to take the Narrow Water Bridge Project forward.

“Narrow Water bridge is a vital piece of all-island infrastructure which will transform the South Down area and is a commitment in the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

“It will not only create jobs but it will also help attract more visitors and investment to the entire area.

"I look forward to more progress to come and will continue to work with both the Irish government and the Department of Infrastructure toward the delivery of this important project.” 

Huge Opportunities

Also welcoming the announcement, Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon MLA said “I am delighted to welcome this long-awaited progress on the iconic Narrow Water Bridge. The Narrow Water Bridge brings with it the potential for huge opportunities for tourism and connectivity to the local area of Carlingford Lough and right across our island. 

“Today’s announcement of funding will be crucial in moving the project forward and getting delivery on the ground. I will be working closely with An Taoiseach, Minister O’Brien and the two councils to ensure my department plays its part in delivering this key commitment for communities North and South, enhancing connectivity, encouraging active travel and opening up opportunities for our island economy”.

It's planned to move the project forward in two phases:

Phase one:  Allocation of €3m in funds from the Shared Island Fund for progressing the Narrow Water Bridge project to tender stage, based on a due diligence of the current design/building standards and live planning permission.

Phase two: Allocation of funds from the Shared Island Fund for the construction of the bridge, following determination of the likely final costs arising and Government approval of the successful tender.

A subgroup of the North-South Infrastructure Group, to also include Louth County Council and Newry Mourne and Down District Council is proposed to oversee the development and delivery of the project. 

Importance of Cross Border Links

Chief Executive of Louth County Council Joan Martin commented “Today’s announcement is the culmination of decades of work by Council members, officials and local community groups who recognise the huge benefits the Narrow Water Bridge will bring to the area.

“The bridge has always been a strategic infrastructure priority for the region, and will serve as a structural reminder of the importance of cross-border links. This is a project which is supported cross-party, North and South, and which will rejuvenate and deepen existing cross-border connections. It will broaden the tourism and economic offering in the area and will incorporate wider active travel opportunities, improving the lives of locals and visitors alike. I am delighted that funding from the Shared Island Fund has been secured to bring the project to tender and I look forward to further developments over the coming months”.

Key Role

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD spoke of the symbolic importance of the bridge “Local authorities in the east border region have played a key role in advocating for the Narrow Water Bridge over the past 5 decades, recognising the huge symbolic, economic and social importance of the project to the people living there. Louth County Council has been designated as the lead project promoter, and I know that they, together with their neighbours in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and other stakeholders will work tirelessly to deliver the project over the coming years.”

Expanding Tourism Options

Crotlieve Councillor, Cllr Declan McAteer added "As Joint Chairman of the Newry Mourne & Down and Louth's Strategic Alliance Committee I look forward to seeing this progressing beyond tender stage to delivery as per the original design which incorporates a lifting mechanism. In advance of completion I will be encouraging both Councils to now consider expanding our tourism options where the bridge plays a pivotal part in new ideas and new activities."

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