Narrow Water Bridge project 'still alive' despite planning permission expiry

The planning permission for the cross-border bridge, linking counties Down and Louth, will expire on October 24

CAMPAIGNERS fighting for the creation of a cross-border bridge linking north and south say the project is "still alive today" despite the impending lapse of its planning permission.

Tomorrow marks the day planning consent for the proposed Narrow Water Bridge scheme expires.

While many say it is the latest setback to hit the project, those who have been campaigning for the bridge have said "it will happen".

Jim Boylan from the Narrow Water Bridge Community Network told The Irish News "it's just a matter of time" before it comes to fruition.

However, he said the lack of a Stormont Executive had furthered halted their project's future.

"...if there is no executive in place - we can't go anywhere," he said.

The proposed cable-stayed bridge would span Carlingford Lough between Omeath, Co Louth and Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint, Co Down

Supporters of the scheme claim it is crucial to the prospects for economic regeneration and reconciliation of the border communities.

Planning permission was granted on October 24 2012 with funding secured from the European Union as well as governments on both sides of the border.

But plans were shelved in 2013 after it emerged costs had been significantly underestimated. Louth County Council said the €18m originally budgeted for was at least €12m shy of what was required.

Despite an 11th-hour bid to meet the shortfall, the withdrawal of EU funding, which led to Stormont pulling out, saw the proposal collapse.

Since then, the project has been on hold, despite assurances the development was "shovel-ready".

However, the north's Department of Infrastructure has confirmed that planning permission for the scheme officially ends tomorrow.

"The planning permission was granted for five years," a spokesman said.

"If a development is not commenced before it becomes time expired, the applicant would need to re-apply for planning permission should they wish to carry out the same development.

"This application would have to be made to Newry, Mourne and Down council."

Despite time running out on the planning permission, Mr Boylan said he was confident the project will still go ahead.

"This project is still alive today," he said.

"We're not too concerned about the planning application, since it is there, it can be renewed - I would be confident of that.

"This project should have happened by now and there still is the will for it to go ahead."

But Mr Boylan said the political impasse at Stormont combined with the impact of Brexit meant the project "can't go anywhere" at the moment.

"We would have expected a paper to be going forward to the next North/South ministerial meeting, in which we hoped to see some progress on the situation," he said.

"But due to the executive not being in place, that can't happen and we don't know when that meeting will be."

The SDLP's Margaret Ritchie, a supporter of the project, said the lapse of the planning permission "should not be the end" for the scheme.

"There needs to be cross-border and cross-party support for this project and I call upon Newry, Mourne and Down council and Louth county council to work together, as well as An Bord Pleanála and the Department of Infrastructure," she said.

"There needs to be measures in place to see this project brought forward once again."

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