DUNDALK Chamber of Commerce president Paddy Malone has branded as “shortsighted” Minister Leo Vardakar’s decision to pull funding for the proposed Narrow Water Bridge that was to link the Omeath to Newry Road in North Louth to the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint Road in South Down.
It emerged last week that funding for the project had been cut with Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Varadkar saying that the development “was not in a position to proceed” in a response to a query on the matter from Louth Deputy Seamus Kirk.
Minister Varadkar said that Louth County Council had submitted economic appraisals and Environmental Impact Assessments for the proposed Narrow Water Bridge project to the National Roads Authority recently. They had then been reviewed on behalf of the department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Minister Varadkar said: “I have examined this report and recommendations and based on the economic appraisal, the current financial circumstances, competing demands from other local authorities for strategic schemes which have a better benefit/cost ratio, this Department is not in a position to proceed any further with the Narrow Water Bridge project, and beyond 2011 no further funding will be made available for it.”
Responding to the news, Chamber of Commerce President Paddy Malone said he was “disappointed in the decision,” particularly as it has come so soon after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Louth County Council and Newry and Mourne District Council.
He said: “The decision seems to have been made on a purely economic basis but, as an accountant, I’ve learned that you don’t make decisions purely on numbers.
“There appears to be no account for the symbolism and need for this from a tourist point of view. That should have swayed the Minister, in my opinion. “On a purely economic basis the motorway from Dublin to Dundalk would not have been built but no one will tell me that that wasn’t a good investment.
“You’ve got to look at these things with a long term view and that hasn’t happened here.”
Deputy Kirk also expressed his disappointment in the decision but said he would push to get it back on the agenda as soon as possible.
The bridge design was first released in 2008 with ground investigation works beginning on site in April of this year. Doubts over the project were first raised in late March, however, when Newry-based MLA PJ Bradley revealed that Louth County Council had been asked to investigate the possibility of a ferry option for the route.
The 280-metre-long bridge was set to link Narrow Water near Warrenpoint in Co Down with Cornamucklagh in Omeath and was designed so it was safe for cyclists and pedestrians.
Narrow Water became synonymous 32 years ago with the single worst loss of life of British soldiers in the Troubles when two IRA bombs killed 18 soldiers and one civilian.
The bridge was to have a tower at each end with consultant engineers insisting that it was designed as a ‘tourist bridge’ that would lift to let boats pass by.