A Northern Ireland council is to lobby the Taoiseach to “bridge the gap” following the Department for Infrastructure’s (DfI) refusal to change plans on a ‘non-opening’ road across Newry Canal.
Plans for the Southern Relief Road bridge will look to link traffic from Warrenpoint harbour area to the A1 bypass for onward journeys to Belfast and Dublin.
However, despite a letter from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC)to the DfI permanent secretary for an opening bridge, the design will not change to allow tall ships to pass under it.
A DfI letter to NMDDC read: “In terms of the economic assessment, it has been assessed that the cost of providing an opening bridge far outweighs the potential benefits that an opening bridge would yield to the economy.
“It is therefore clear that the provision of any opening bridge option does not represent value for money.”
However, the council chamber heard a solution to facilitate tall ships and larger leisure craft in to reaching the Albert Basin under the proposed Southern Relief Road, could now lie in potential funding from the Shared Island Unit.
Newry SDLP councillor, Michael Savage said: “We’ve had shortfalls before and on a previous occasion the Southern government has stepped in on Shared Island Unit funding for mutual benefit projects.
“From that perspective I believe we should be considering making an approach to the Taoiseach, similar to finding the funding we didn’t have in the North when it came to much needed funds for nurse training at Magee college in Derry.
“We need to be able to see beyond the short term potential.
“None of us 50 years ago would not have foreseen the effect of mobile phones on society, so what is to say in the next 50 years what would be possible in engineering.
“It is very important that we protect key assets, such as Newry Canal.
“I believe the jewel in the crown is Newry as a tourism destination potentially down the line.”
He added: “We should be contacting the permanent secretary and ask if there can be engagement with the Shared Island Unit to explore solutions for tall ships and other vessels to be able to pass under the bridge into Albert Basin and the canal.
“We should also be engaging with the Shared Island Unit and the Taoiseach himself to help bridge the gap.”
The bridge is part of the Newry Southern Relief Road (NSRR) project which has been allocated £93.4m in funding as part of the Belfast Region City Deal.
In addition to reducing traffic flow in Newry city centre, the bridge would enhance access to and from Warrenpoint Port.
The DfI letter has now stated to NMDDC that its Major Project South team will progress the scheme to the next development stage.
This will include and Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR), which will be subject to a public consultation.
Sinn Fein rep, Cathal King added: “It is deeply disappointing that despite the previous motion passing to contact the permanent secretary, the response from DfI states that they intend to proceed with their decision for a fixed bridge.
“This will hinder our chance to develop the full potential of Newry and its waterways.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with DfI to continue to raise the community’s support for a bridge that will allow it to be used for future use of the historic Albert Basin and Newry Canal.”