Newry.ie

Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon has announced that her department are progressing the Newry Southern Relief Road scheme and the Narrow Water Bridge project but while many see the projects as positive for Warrenpoint and Newry, either project has the potential to delete forever the massive tourism potential for Newry Ship Canal and the broader Newry area.

Within the Minister’s budget statement to the Assembly on Wednesday of this week, she included funding for the Southern Relief Road. The Minister also spoke of progressing the Narrow Water scheme  "I have also asked officials to bring forward proposals to progress Narrow Water Bridge, a commitment in New Decade New Approach, which would fully explore the environmental and economic benefits this project would deliver for the people of South Down."

In a comment to Newry.ie the Department has claimed that the structure of the bridge attached to the Newry Southern Relief Road has an impact on the Narrow Water Bridge proposals.

Joint Decision

Planning permission has already being granted for an opening bridge at Narrow Water but the Department are seemingly suggesting that this could be changed as the decision is a joint decision between the DFI and the Irish Government.

Unlocking Tourism Potential

In a question directly to the Minister relating to the Southern Relief Road, Newry.ie asked "if she supports the provision of an opening bridge over Newry Ship Canal as part of the project, to ensure that 250 years of continuous access via the Canal to the heart of Newry City by tall ships and yachts can continue."

The reply didn't answer the question but said the Minister was aware of concerns and the potential to impact vessel navigation on Newry Ship Canal and then went on to say how the Minister was committed to progressing the 'Narrow Water Bridge' project!

Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon has said she plans to unlock the tourism potential of this cross border region with both the Southern Relief Road and Narrow Water Bridge projects but no comment has been given on whether this means an opening bridge for both projects or not! Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon has said she plans to unlock the tourism potential of this cross border region with both the Southern Relief Road and Narrow Water Bridge projects but no comment has been given on whether this means an opening bridge for both projects or not! Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

In their reply to our question the DFI spoke of how the Minister will press to ensure that tourism is unlocked through both projects but it's unclear if the tourism referred to includes the ability for tall ships to still sail all the way up Newry Ship Canal into the heart of Newry city, with the provision of an opening bridge as part of the Southern Relief Road!

"The Minister is aware of concerns about the proposed Newry Southern Relief Road bridge structure over the Newry Ship Canal and the potential to impact vessel navigation on Newry Ship Canal.

"The Minister is also mindful of how the structure of the bridge attached to the Newry Southern Relief Road has an impact on the Narrow Water Bridge proposals where the design that originally received planning permission was for an opening bridge. As this is a cross border project, any decisions about progressing an opening or fixed bridge at Narrow Water will be made jointly with the Irish Government. Minister Mallon is committed to progressing the Narrow Water Bridge project and delivering for the people of South Down.The Minister will be pressing to ensure the tourism potential of this cross border region is unlocked through both projects maximise the tourism potential of this cross border region whilst protecting the natural environment in this area of historic and ecological significance. She hopes to work with local communities, driving change from the ground up rather than the top down. The Minister looks forward to engaging with all stakeholders including the Council and local interest groups."

Investment in the Future or Beginning of the End?

Commenting on the DFI statements, IWAI Newry and Portadown Branch said  "If both governments agree on a movable bridge for Narrow Water then the benefactors of such a structure would be not just small craft but also tall ships and yachts with tall masts this would be a welcomed development. It would be an investment in the future of the Newry Ship Canal and it would strengthen the case for a movable SRR bridge so a free accessible route is maintained right up to the Albert Basin.

"A fixed Narrow Water Bridge and a fixed SSR bridge would see the beginning of the end of Newry Ship Canal, Albert Basin and possibly the future of the Inland Navigation itself."

Online Consultation

Development work continues on the Project by the Department for Infrastructure with potential for the Stage 3  Environmental Impact Assessment Consultation to be conducted online. Speaking to Newry.ie DFI spokesperson said "Feedback has shown that consultees are broadly content to proceed electronically although some concerns were raised on timescales. The Department will keep this under consideration as it is important that all consultees have the opportunity to contribute."

Updating Newry.ie on the SRR project the DFI added "The Newry Southern Relief road is a strategically important route that will benefit Newry and the surrounding regions. It is one of 3 infrastructure projects in the Belfast City Region Deal. The Department wants to deliver a project that works and development work continues at pace. As with any major road scheme there are issues that need to be resolved to deliver the objectives. The current stage of the project involves developing the design of the road and preparing the draft Statutory Orders, along with an Environmental Impact Assessment Report.  The Department has been consulting extensively with the public and key stakeholders. This has included working with the freight industry on the gradient for the route which has been altered following their feedback to ensure that the Preferred Route is acceptable for Heavy Goods Vehicles. This current development work is well advanced.  When the current stage is complete, the draft orders and Environmental Impact Assessment Report will be published for statutory public consultation."

A fixed bridge at Narrow Water or on Newry Ship Canal would make Victoria Lock virtually redundant, save for a few small craft. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
A fixed bridge at Narrow Water or on Newry Ship Canal would make Victoria Lock virtually redundant, save for a few small craft. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Delighted

Speaking on today's announcement Justin McNulty MLA said “Newry is a city well placed to maximise the benefits of our position on the Belfast - Dublin economic corridor as well as our connections with Warrenpoint. I’m delighted that the Infrastructure Minister has recognised the potential to capitalise on this and has announced progress on the southern relief road."

The Bottom Line

At present while plans for the Narrow Water Bridge include an opening section the Department for Infrastructure's preferred option for the Southern Relief Road project three miles upstream, is a fixed 12 metre clearance bridge over Newry Ship Canal. This is far short of the approximately 35 metre clearance needed to allow continuing access to the Albert Basin in Newry city.

If either of the proposed bridges end up being fixed, this will spell the end of over 250 years of shipping access from Newry to the World, and more importantly from the World to Newry!

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