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Ulster Maritime Heritage have written to the Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon to cite their concerns about a proposed 12 metre high fixed bridge over the Newry Ship Canal and to  lobby for an opening lifting bridge.

The organisation has stated that a fixed bridge would effectively make the recently renovated Victoria Lock and Albert Basin reduntant.

A fixed bridge at this spot on Newry Ship Canal would make Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin redundant according to Ulster Maritime Heritage. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
A fixed bridge at this spot on Newry Ship Canal would make Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin redundant according to Ulster Maritime Heritage. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

The bridge forms part of the Department for Infrastructure's Southern Relief Road project which would link the A2 Warrenpoint Dual Carriageway to the A1 Belfast to Dublin road, and at this stage of development a fixed bridge is the Department's preferred option.

A recent economic appraisal on the bridge was commissioned by Newry, Mourne and Down Council and sent to the Department, and it's believed that the report suggested a preferred option of a fixed bridge although it was accompanied by a letter that added that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's preferred option is for a lifting bridge so confusion reigns!

The letter from UMH said "Our maritime history and heritage deserve careful consideration, and sympathetic integration with any new developments. The Newry Ship Canal and its associated infrastructure dates in parts from as early as 1720; the Canal has a significant heritage, tourism, recreational and public well-being value. It is still in use by vessels; indeed one of our members has previously used the canal commercially."

The letter continues "A fixed bridge over Newry Ship Canal has been put forward as the preferred design option by the Department for Infrastructure for the planned Southern Relief Road. The Relief Road is understood to be intended to bring greater economic development to the Greater Newry area which is welcome.

"However, a fixed bridge of limited airdraft will simply end conventional ship and yacht movements on the canal, and effectively make both the listed Victoria Lock and the Albert Basin redundant for the purposes for which they were built.  It will have a detrimental effect on the Canal, the lock and basin. The resulting underuse will hasten their demise, with the unintended consequence of dereliction, rather than supporting important living heritage."

Ulster Maritime Heritage suggest that a more realistic clearance for the bridge would be a minimum of 27 metres.  

They also added that today’s decisions will impact directly upon future generations’ use and enjoyment of the canal which has been in existence for over 250 years and stands as testament to the skills of the artisans who built it and that an opening lifting bridge carrying the roadway across the canal would be a positive and practical solution to ensuring that the canal navigation can function as it currently does, and as it has for centuries.

The letter concludes "It would continue to accommodate seagoing sailing vessels, and the Tall Ships which are such a feature of promoting visitors to Northern Ireland.

"From a heritage perspective there is strong support for a lifting bridge to ensure continued future use of this important maritime asset. I would urge that in reaching a final decision, careful consideration be given to protecting the practical use of this important element in our unique Maritime Heritage."

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