Narrow Water Bridge political debate rumbles on
Political leaders in Northern Ireland are once again at loggerheads over the application for the Narrow Water Bridge.
Wilson’s comments were made after the Assembly passed an SDLP motion calling for the Executive to make explicit its commitment to ensure that the remaining financial package for the bridge is put in place immediately.
After the motion was carried by 47 votes to 38, Wilson questioned the speed with which the SDLP’s environment minister Alex Attwood granted planning permission for the bridge and called for an investigation into the planning process.
During a heated exchange between Attwood and Wilson, the SDLP representative rejected Wilson’s comments and was asked to sit down by Roy Beggs, the deputy speaker of the Assembly.
Earlier in the debate the SDLP insisted that the Narrow Water Bridge Project could become an icon for economic growth, in terms of tourism, infrastructure and strengthening relations north and south.
“It makes the very best of good sense at every social and economic level and on every conceivable measure of community benefit.
“And with the imaginative leadership and good management that we asked the Assembly to mandate, that benefit can ripple outwards to reach large parts of Northern Ireland. We asked this house to back not just a bridge but a vision.
McKevitt continued, “Of course, bridges alone don’t bring all that many people to an area – but that is where vision must come in.”
“And right at the heart of that new destination area we are to have something new, a connecting point, a symbol, a pivot on which the whole area can turn. Our elegant new bridge at Narrow Water can become an icon and essential marketing image for this new destination.”
Local SDLP MLA Seán Rogers agreed. He added, “This project is about jobs and economic recovery. What a difference an investment of over 20million euro will make to South Down. This is a win-win for the construction, hospitality and retail sector in South Down and further afield.
“We have already lost a generation to emigration, but the next generation will judge this Assembly harshly if they don’t make this bridge a reality.”
SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the welfare of the people of South Down was their number one priority, and reiterated her belief that the project will ‘copper-fasten’ economic opportunities for all of the people in this area.
Ritchie stated, “Following the endorsement by the NI Assembly, and the good work which has been undertaken by the East Border Region Committee and Louth County Council, I now call on the Minister for Finance to provide the remainder of the funding to enable the construction and development of the bridge.
“I have already written to the Minister asking him to provide the much needed match funding. The Northern Ireland Assembly has now spoken – the Minister should heed the will of the Assembly and act in a positive and constructive manner.
She added, “Narrow Water Bridge will act as a pivotal catalyst for economic development, regeneration and make provision for enhanced tourism opportunities in South Down. Jobs will be provided in the construction of the bridge, and it will undoubtedly usher in new tourism and regeneration opportunities for the constituency.
However, DUP Newry & Armagh Assemblyman William Irwin wasn’t as enthusiastic about the prospect of a Narrow Water Bridge.
Describing it as a ‘solution to a non-existent problem’ Irwin said that requesting the Stormont Finance Minister to stump up the extra cash to build a single carriageway bridge at Narrow Water would be to the detriment of other higher priority projects.
Irwin went on to argue that the Southern Relief Road, currently in the design stages, would be more deserving of the extra finance and prioritisation given that it would have a direct impact on reducing congestion in and around Newry City.
“I stated clearly in the debate today that this bridge is not a simple kit of parts from Europe that will solve all problems, it isn’t and it is not without huge expense, including significant maintenance and running costs in terms of the opening section of the proposed bridge.”
“I made the point clearly that the DRD Roads Service and indeed the Executive have key targets, in terms of infrastructure, that they wish to see moved forward in a bid to improve the accessibility of key trading towns and cities in Northern Ireland.”
Irwin insisted that Narrow Water Bridge may prove detrimental to other projects. “The Southern Relief Road plan has already cost the Executive £1million in consultancy and design fees and this work remains on-going.
“I feel that to expect the Finance Minister to fund this additional cost for a bridge would be to the detriment of the relief road scheme aims and objectives.
“The relief road which would join up the Warrenpoint Road with the Dublin Road is much better placed to increase tourism and build on Newry’s trading reputation by reducing congestion in Newry City and its immediate environs.
He added, “The Narrow Water Bridge aims to solve a problem which in reality does not exist, tourists want to visit Newry city and the current road network allows them to do this and access tourism sites on each side of the border without the need and expense of a bridge at Narrow Water.”
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