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Hopes fresh funding will put halted bridge scheme back on track

Suzanne McGonagle s.mcgonagle@irishnews.com

There is fresh hope that the stalled Narrow Water Bridge project may proceed after an additional £1.8 milllion funding has been pledged.

Newry and Mourne district council have agreed to make the financial contribution to the cross-border scheme.

Supporters of the project have renewed optimism about the bridge this week amid speculation that the remaining multi-million-pound shortfall is about to be met.

It has been suggested the Irish government will this week provide another n 3m to the n 15m shortfall fund.

This extra contribution will accompany the n 4m it has already pledged.

There are also strong suggestions that a private contributor will donate around £4m.

The remaining funds are understood to be coming from Louth county council (around n 2m) and Down district council (£0.5m). however, hopes that the Northern Ireland executive will dig deep and provide more funds have been quashed.

Stormont DUP finance minister Simon hamilton last night told The Irish News that his department had "no additional funding that can be made available for the Narrow Water Bridge".

But campaigners for the link between counties Down and Louth appear confident they are on the cusp of securing enough funds to see the project begin.

The pressure has been on Louth County Council to find the shortfall in funding after bids for the project came in substantially above budget.

It halted construction on the cross-border link in July when tenders were lodged ranging from n 26m to n 40m - believed to be at least n 10m to n 25m over budget. however, supporters of the scheme last night said that Newry and Mourne's decision to "back the bridge scheme" heralded the start of putting the project "back on track".

A letter of offer from the Special eU Programmes Body for n 17.4m funding was last month also "accepted and signed".

The SDLP's Connaire McGreevy last night welcomed the decision by Newry and Mourne to contribute to the scheme.

"The involvement of three separate local government groups along with the support of the Irish government and a private investor was the perfect response to cynics who have argued that the project was doomed to failure," he said.

Sinn Fein Mayor of Newry and Mourne Michael ruane confirmed that the councillors had "approved a previous committee meeting decision to provide funding" to the scheme. however, he said the amount of money to be donated had not been agreed at the meeting on Monday. he said he was "hopeful" that other contributors would be secured to "lessen the impact on the rate-payer".

A spokesman for Louth County Council said it welcomed the move by Newry and Mourne and added that it would "continue to secure the outstanding balance of funding necessary to complete the project".

A spokesman for the Irish government last night would only say that it may give consideration to further funding "if all the parties to this project are in a position to contribute additional funds".

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