The importance of an opening bridge over Newry Canal, as part of the Southern Relief Road project, has been spelt out by Councillors from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council at a meeting last night with Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.

At present the Department for Infrastructure are progressing the project with a fixed bridge design, although they say an opening option has not been ruled out. Newry City Councillor, Cllr Gary Stokes said the resounding message from local councillors was the need for an opening bridge.

A impression of what a fixed bridge over Newry Ship Canal would look like. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
A impression of what a fixed bridge over Newry Ship Canal would look like. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

The Councillors who took part in the online meeting with Minister Nichola Mallon and her team said an opening bridge was needed to enable tourism development and to realise the potential of  a reopened Newry Canal.

The proposed Southern Relief Road project aims to take freight traffic from Warrenpoint Port to the A1 Dublin to Belfast road without the necessity of travelling through Newry City.  The  route would travel from Warrenpoint Dual Carriageway across Greenbank over a bridge acriss the Clanrye River and Newry Ship Canal.

The project is currently progressing with a fixed bridge design which if built would mean the end of shipping traffic through Victoria Lock and up Newry Canal to the heart of Newry. The annual Iúr Cinn Fleadh Festival has seen regular tall ship trips to Victoria Lock while Silvery Light Sailing are constantly promoting the Albert Basin and the waterway itself. Currently their ship Volharding is docked at The Quays and is planning to recommence canal trips in Easter 2021.

Councillor Gary Stokes who attended the meeting which was requested by Minister Mallon said she was keen to hear the views of local elected reps and the wider community and the Newry City representative added the resounding message from local councillors was for an opening bridge!

Key to long term development of Canal

Cllr Stokes said "It is key that the new bridge is an opening bridge to facilitate all types of vessel that currently may access the Albert Basin.  Not only is this key to the development of the Albert Basin park and all the related potential water based activities on the basin but also to the long term development of the entire canal."

Cllr Gary Stokes.

"The long term aim has always been the restoration of the entire canal all the way to Lough Neagh. There are currently five bridges in Newry blocking access along the canal. To place a further blockage would set back the opening of the entire canal even further." Said Cllr Stokes.

Strong Maritime history

Another attendee Councillor David Taylor felt the meeting with the Infrastructure Minister was a very useful exchange.

Cllr Taylor said "Councillors made it clear to the Minister that they would like the option of an opening bridge to be explored recognising the strong maritime history associated with Newry and the potential long term tourism development opportunities that could be facilitated on Newry Canal if this type of bridge was provided.

Cllr David Taylor

"The Southern Relief Road has the potential to bring economic benefits to Newry and the wider area and I appealed to the Minister to ensure that the project does not encounter undue delays."

The Slieve Gullion Councillor added "I hope that she will reflect upon the representations made today and that the project can move forward at the earliest opportunity in a manner that enables our area to realise its full economic and tourism potential."

One opportunity to do this right

Welcoming the investment but emphasising that a fixed bridge would seal the fate of the Albert Basin, Councillor Roisin Mulgrew said "In light of these major plans and investment already secured, the Sinn Féin team believe that we have one opportunity to ensure the design of the Southern Relief Road is done right and in the interests of the people of Newry. In our view, this requires a lifting bridge over the canal and river.

Cllr Roisin Mulgrew

"A fixed structure across the canal and river would seal the fate of the Basin and hamper any chance of future development of the historic, and hugely significant, Newry Canal. 

"A non-opening bridge would restrict visiting vessels coming into the Basin, which we in Sinn Féin hope will become an attractive recreational destination for residents and tourists alike."

Cllr. Mulgrew concluded "Investment on this scale, coming to Newry is massively welcome, but must be spent in a way that will enhance our city and unlock further potential in the years ahead. In terms of tourism potential in the Newry area, no projects rival the sympathetic restoration of the Newry Canal and the development of a top of the range park on the Albert Basin site."   

Adding that an opening bridge hasn't been ruled out a DFI spokesperson said: "Whilst the development of Newry Southern Relief Road is currently progressing on the basis of a fixed bridge over the Newry Ship Canal, the option for an opening bridge has not been ruled out at this stage."

"The Minister is aware of concerns about the proposed bridge structure and the potential to impact vessel navigation on Newry Ship Canal and engaged yesterday with Newry Mourne & Down District Council to listen to the views of the local elected representatives." concluded the spokesperson.



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