Work is expected to begin early in the New Year on a new cross-border greenway linking Counties Monaghan and Armagh.
At a cost of close to €6 million, the new route will stretch from Smithborough in Monaghan to Middletown in Armagh.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council have committed funding to the scheme already.
But the lion’s share will be European money – over €4 million in total costs.
It is one of a number of EU-funded projects which have now been giving ministerial approval, signalling a green light for work to start early in 2017.
In this border region, six councils under the umbrella of East Border Region had been waiting approval on projects totalling €88.4million. These included schemes to improve our waterways and rivers, a support programme for 1,400 small businesses in the border region and two greenway projects.
Local SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon has welcomed movement on the way forward.
“I am delighted that these have been signed off in Belfast and Dublin and the official paperwork is to be issued next week. These projects will be a huge boost to the local economy.
“In particular I welcome the go-ahead for the Middletown – Smithborough Greenway which, at €5.9million, will follow the path of the Ulster Canal.
“This is a brilliant scheme and is part of an expanding network of greenways across Ireland. They have proven to be hugely popular with walkers and cyclists, however, the real benefit is in economic terms.
“Everywhere these projects are completed we see small businesses popping up along the route such as artisan bakeries and butchers, small coffee shops and restaurants, as well as facilities where you can hire a bike for the day on the greenway.
“This is a brilliant scheme and I hope it will only be the start.
“I want to see this extended right along the route of the old Ulster Canal through Tynan, Caledon and into Blackwatertown and Charlemont, but also there is no reason why we couldn’t see one established from Middletown into Armagh City.
“I see this project as phase one of a much more ambitious plan.’
“I also welcome the Co-Innovative Project which will support over 1,400 small businesses in this border region in areas of cooperation and innovation. This is vital for our new industries such as the high-tech industries and, whilst it wasn’t envisaged at the time the project was designed, this project is more important than ever as we face into Brexit.
“The uncertainty over the future of these projects has been deeply worrying for all involved. €88.4million is not to be sniffed at, today’s announcement means these projects can and will be delivered. Their approval allows the projects to run right up to 2023, and if Brexit happens before that it will not impact on these projects so this is excellent news.
“I and some colleagues went to Brussels earlier this month to push for these projects. We met with MEPs and senior officials at the heart of Europe. We warned of the impact of any delay in these projects and I am delighted the work of our officials preparing the applications and our lobbying in Brussels has paid off.”
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