Northern Ireland

Narrow Water bridge plan 'still alive'

Narrow Water Bridge Image copyright An Bord Pleanála
Image caption The proposed bridge would link Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Planning permission for the cross-border Narrow Water bridge project appears to have been retained, according to a Sinn Féin councillor.

The proposed bridge, stretching from Warrenpoint in County Down to Omeath in County Louth, was due to open in 2015 but was hit by a series of problems.

After several delays and a significant funding shortfall, the project was scrapped in 2013.

But councillor Antóin Watters told BBC News NI the project is still "alive".

'Conflicting stories'

The Carlingford-based Sinn Féin representative said Louth County Council has confirmed to him that it is satisfied permissions have been retained, after work was recently carried out at the site of the proposed crossing.

"There were a lot of conflicting stories in the media, so I wanted to get reassurances for myself and my constituents," Mr Watters said.

"The (Council) officials assured me that all the works that needed to be done were done and the planning is still intact."

Image caption Antóin Watters said Louth Council Council told him planning permission has been retained

The scrapping of the project in 2013 led to the loss of 17.4m euros (then £14.5m) of European funding, which had previously been allocated to the project.

'Eleventh-hour'

That money was then redistributed to other projects, with the cross-border Enterprise train stock among the beneficiaries.

Planning permission on the Northern Ireland side of the project was due to lapse in October 2017 but at the eleventh-hour, Louth County Council, the project's applicant, sent workers to the site to conduct works to preserve permissions.

Since then, it has proven difficult to secure confirmation in relation to whether the works achieved their aim.

Image caption Louth County Council sent contractors to the site of the bridge

Questions on the matter to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, the local planning authority, were redirected to Stormont's Department for Infrastructure.

The Department for Infrastructure then redirected enquiries back to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

The council then said it was for the applicant (Louth County Council) to state whether permission had been preserved.

"It is for the applicant/developer to have regard to the terms of the planning permission granted and to satisfy themselves that they have commenced the development within the lifetime of the planning permission and that all relevant conditions have been discharged," a council statement read.

Mr Watters, who sits on Louth County Council, said: "From all the investigations I've been doing and from the reassurances I've got from Louth County Council and from the Newry council, sufficient works have been done to enable to project to stay alive."

Across Carlingford Lough in Warrenpoint, Jim Boylan of the Narrow Water Bridge Community Network is also confident that planning permission has been retained.

Image caption Jim Boylan said Narrow Water Bridge is still a live project

"We have got assurances that the planning permission has been satisfied," he said.

"There was quite a bit of work done over a number of days to fulfil the planning permission so the Narrow Water Bridge is still a live project.

"All parties seem to be happy that it has been satisfied. The next item on the agenda is that there will be a paper going to the North-South Ministerial Council from the stakeholder groups."

To date, Louth County Council has spent in the region of 2m euros £1.8m) on the project.

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