Hopes stalled Narrow Water Bridge project could finally get go ahead
A KEY figure in the Narrow Water Bridge project has presented a new plan which he believes could kick-start the stalled cross-border bridge plan.
The new initiative would involve merging the original bridge plan with the Newry City Southern Relief Road scheme.
Michael Curran, who was instrumental in the business plan and securing planning permission for Narrow Water Bridge, said he believes it "makes a lot of sense to marry the two projects together".
The former director of economic and cross-border development at Louth County Council said that along with road improvements south of the border, the new combined project would offer "significant transport benefits for the region along with the tourism benefits which the original scheme would offer".
Plans to build the cross-border road bridge, across the Newry River linking counties Down and Louth, were shelved in 2013 after it emerged that 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 European Union funding, which led to Stormont pulling out, saw the proposal collapse.
Mr Curran, who was involved in helping to secure €18m of EU funding for the original Narrow Water Bridge, said he shared the disappointment of many when the project did not go ahead.
During the same time, he also worked with Newry and Mourne Council to investigate access to Warrenpoint port from the M1, known as the Newry City Southern Relief Road.
Ahead of his retirement in 2014 he was part of a group on Louth County Council that investigated the possibility of integrating the two projects - Narrow Water Bridge and Newry City Southern Relief Road - into one project.
Mr Curran said merging the project would "solve two problems".
He said the fresh plans have been presented to the two governments, north and south of the border, in which there was "a very positive response".
"The bridge connection together with this 'relief road' link to the motorway would remove a considerable quantity of port traffic from Newry thus relieving congestion in the town and removing bottlenecks," he said.
Mr Curran's revised plan would see the cost of the whole project reduced.
"The estimated construction costs for the two schemes are significantly different, with the current estimates for the Newry scheme to be in the region of €200m, as opposed to our estimated costs for the Narrow Water Bridge and road upgrade scheme to be in the order of €55m," he said.
"We consider that this scheme offers all the benefits of the proposed NI scheme and includes for significant road improvements on the existing road network in two EU jurisdictions which would offer economic benefits to the region as a whole.
"If grant aid of 40 per cent can be achieved through the Trans-European Network policy, then we would envisage the works on the bridge to proceed.
"The road upgrade and relief road section can be phased over the next three years.
"If we can achieve financial assistance from the two jurisdictions north and south, then we would anticipate the total funding requirement from each government/ council authority/ road service to be of the order of €4.12m per year over a four year period."
Mr Curran, who is originally from Mullartown, close to Annalong in Co Down, said he hoped the revised plan would help open up the place where he grew up.
"The east coast of Ireland needs this development if we want to develop the tourist potential in the Mourne/ Cooley region, give access to Warrenpoint and Greenore Port traffic, our local industry and bringing both communities closer together, " he said.
"The potential for the Mourne region is enormous with the development and regeneration of towns and villages, not to mention the development of rural communities.
"As an individual, I want to see it happen. To open up the Mournes will open up the north even more than before.
"We should be thinking of young people and their futures and are going to create jobs for them.
"There's so much potential for the Narrow Water Bridge project and potential for tourism on both sides of the border."