Three Stormont ministers were quizzed in relation to the Narrow Water Bridge Project last week by South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane. Ms Ruane lodged a series of questions with Environment Minister Alex Attwood, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy. Asked My Ms Ruane whether the DOE will process the Narrow Water Bridge planning application before September 2012 Minister Attwood said: “I can advise that the Southern Area Planning Office is already processing the application for the bridge at Narrow Water as a matter of priority. The proposal raises a number of important issues given the site’s location including its position adjacent to scheduled monument, road safety and navigation issues. The application will be dealt with as quickly as possible and I have advised officials to be vigilant in managing the application. Clearly the timeframe will rely on prompt responses from consultees, the applicant and further engagement of Louth Council. Independent of this is the issue of funding and the view for example of the Special EU Programme Body (SEUPB). When asked by Ms Ruane what action the Department of Finance intends to take to support the project Minister Wilson said: “Louth Co Council applied to the INTERREG IVA programme for funding for the Narrow Water bridge project it was the INTERREG IVA steering committee rather than SEUPB alone that assessed the application. An it was the committee not SEUPB alone that agreed that the project did not meet all the ion criteria and should not therefore proceed to the next stage of the assessment process. All applications for INTERREG IVA funding are assessed by the steering committee which is a subgroup of the programme monitoring committee. The steering committee is chaired by the SEUPB and comprises social partners, elected representatives and officials from government departments including Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP). Using the information provided by the applicant the committee scores applications against the agreed selection criteria an reaches its decision on a consensus basis. I understand Louth Co Council has appealed the steering committee’s decision not to fund the Narrow Water bridge project and that the SEUPB has in response initiated the agreed review process. A review panel will be convened and will comprise the three members of the programme monitoring committee and one independent representative, none of whom were members of the steering committee that took the original decision. Review panel members do not support or otherwise the projects that come to them. The purpose of the review will be to consider the reasonableness of the original steering committee decision based on the evidence that was provided in the application. When asked by Ms Ruane to outline any objections the Department of Regional Development has with the project Minister Kennedy said: “I can advise the member that my department did not raise any objections to the funding proposal for the Narrow Water bridge proposal.
23rd May 2012