Northern Ireland

Belfast-Dublin-Warrenpoint road project at a crossroads

Boats in Newry canal
Image caption Waterways authorities are concerned about access to Newry Canal

It is one of Northern Ireland's biggest road building projects and aims to link the Belfast to Dublin Road with Warrenpoint Port.

So far the Newry Southern Relief Road (NSRR) has attracted cross-party political support and a promise of significant funding from the Belfast Region City Deal.

At the recent Greater Newry Business Awards, there was huge support for the £100m project.

But some groups have voiced concerns.

Waterways authorities are concerned about access to Newry Canal, while others are worried about the project's impact on the area's natural beauty.

The design of the road will be finalised by the end of the year - then both supporters and those opposing the plan will have a chance to formally have their say.

But, with the viewpoints set to rage over the coming months, BBC News NI spoke to some of those on both sides of the debate.

'Great opportunity'

The relief road is a key infrastructure project for the area - that's the view of Colm Shannon, from the Newry Chamber of Commerce.

"It will provide direct access from the motorway to Warrenpoint Port, which is very important for the local economy and will also provide a boost for tourism by improving access to south Down.

"The first few phases were funded by EU money and we would hope the city deal that has been negotiated with the UK government will help fund the construction of this road," he said.

The NSRR aims to link the A1 Belfast-Dublin Road with the A2 Newry-Warrenpoint dual carriageway, which is expected to improve access to Warrenpoint Port and Newry city centre.

Warrenpoint Port finance director Ciaran Grant said the road will allow it to expand beyond its base on the shores of Carlingford Lough.

"The port itself is fairly restricted in terms of how it can develop in the long term. It is sort of land-locked," he said.

Image caption A view of Warrenpoint Port

"But there is a great opportunity with the relief road you can get on to the eastern side of Newry - to the Carnbane Industrial Estate," he added.

"That opens up a real opportunity in the long term for a distribution centre for the whole island of Ireland.

"So while the port might not be able to expand on site there could be opportunities on the outskirts of Newry."

'Area of outstanding natural beauty'

But not everyone is happy.

Earlier this year, Peter Maxwell, of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI), told BBC News NI that his organisation would oppose any proposal that would see a non-opening fixed bridge cross the historic Newry Canal.

"A fixed bridge would need to be over 100ft high - that's 30m," he said.

"The tall ships that visit Newry frequently need that clearance," he added.

Current proposals indicate the bridge could be as low as 12m.

It is thought an opening bridge would add an extra £25m to the project's costs.

The challenges do not stop there.

Image caption Roisin Morgan says it is "an area of outstanding natural beauty"

After crossing the canal, the road would then need to snake its way from the base of a steep valley through the inclines of the rural Fathom and Flagstaff townlands before linking up with the Belfast-Dublin road.

A newly-formed resident's group called Can't Fathom It has concerns.

The group's spokeswoman Roisin Morgan said it is "an area of outstanding natural beauty".

"It has been identified as such. It is very peaceful up here You can hear the birds singing," she said.

"This is ancient forest and that is going to be taken away. That can't be replaced."

At a recent consultation event in the Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, some of these concerns were put to Department for Infrastructure officials.

Among them was Liam McEvoy who said these issues need to be worked through.

"We've been meeting with landowners on a regular basis to try and understand how this particular project will impact upon them and to get their views on the project," he said.

"We're also talking to other stakeholders in the project like users of the canal and interested parties in the canal to understand from their point of view how they feel it will impact upon them."

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