The fate of the proposed Narrow Water bridge now rests in the hands of Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy, the Executive’s Regional Development Minister, now has the final say on the bridge following Finance Minister Sammy Wilson’s decision to release the last tranche of funding the project needed.
For months it looked as if the project could come tumbling down as Minister Wilson complained of the bridge having a ‘political smell,’ but with all funding now in place construction work could begin as early as August.
Still, as part of the conditions for the money being released Minister Wilson has stipulated that any overruns and maintenance costs will have to be covered by Louth County Council while Newry and Mourne Council will cover operational costs. As the bridge will have an impact on navigation rights on Newry River it now falls to Minister Kennedy to give it the green light.
South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane has called on Mr Kennedy to approve the project as soon as possible.
“I call on Danny Kennedy to release the bridge order as soon as possible so that we can help revitalise the construction sector, which is suffering from the recession,’ she said.
“The bridge will open up the entire south Down and north Louth region for inward investment and tourism as well as cutting travel times in commuting to and from the area.’
A public consultation that is out on the bridge ends today and Minister Kennedy said he will not be making any decision on the project until any objections it raises have been examined.
Once the consultation has been considered he will either sign the bridge order or initiate a public inquiry.
Meanwhile, however, news that funding for the bridge has been released has been welcomed.
Mayor of Newry and Mourne John McArdle said the construction of the bridge would mark an historic event in the history of Ireland.
‘The Narrow Water Bridge will symbolise decades of cross border cooperation between the communities of Newry and Mourne and Louth and will copper fasten links established in the Memorandum of Understanding,’ he said.
“The bridge will also bring significant social and economic benefits to the region and indeed, to the island of Ireland.
“As well as construction jobs in the short term, the bridge will boost the local tourism industry and will build upon recent investments in the region including the mountain bike trails at Kilbroney and the Slieve Gullion Adventure Play Park in south Armagh.’
Councillor Gerald Mallon, Chairman of the East Border Region, a lead partner in the bridge project, echoed Mr McArdle’s sentiments.
“The Narrow Water Bridge is a genuinely symbolic cross border project and will provide a catalyst for economic development and tourism within the region,’ he said.
“Now that funding has been secured work on the development of the bridge will begin immediately and will be completed by June 2015.’
Michael Curran, Director of Services with Economic and Cross Border Development at Louth Local Authorities said the project was 40 years in the making.
“After around 40 years in discussion and five years of investing both time and money in the planning and funding bid process, it is absolutely fantastic that the Narrow Water Bridge has moved a huge step closer,’ he said.
“As we celebrate today’s announcement, I look forward to the development of the bridge and to the day it will become one of Ireland’s most iconic monuments to improved community and cross-border relations.’
South Down MLA Sean Rodgers welcomed the funding as the ‘final piece of the jigsaw’.
“This funding represents the final piece of the jigsaw in delivering this tremendous project,’ the SDLP representative said.
“The economic benefits of the Narrow Water bridge will greatly enhance how we do business across the island of Ireland.
“Delivery of the project, which has been eagerly awaited, is good news for those who want to see a healthy economy and boost to the tourism sector.’
4th June 2013