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Councillors appear to have muddied the Newry Canal waters somewhat, in relation to the 'Preferred Option' for the type of bridge to straddle Newry Ship Canal, as part of the Southern Relief Road project.

Last weeks, 10 May,  Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council debated the "Economic Assessment of Water based Activities" Agenda item, which had been deferred from the April Meeting after Councillors asked for more time to study the item.

Following a lengthy discussion Councillors agreed to "consider the findings" of an independent economic assessment and "submit this assessment to DFI officials". Additionally they agreed to write to DFI to say that the Council's 'Preferred Option' is for a lifting bridge!

In effect they appear to be sending two contradictory recommendations, one for a fixed bridge and one for a lifting bridge. understands that the assessment in question concluded that a lifting bridge wouldn't be financially viable and recommended options that essentially would mean that a fixed bridge was the Council commissioned report's 'Preferred Option' from an economic point of view. Whether the agreed addition of a letter stating that a lifting bridge is the Council's 'Preferred Option' will carry more weight for the DFI (Whose 'Preferred Option' is presently a fixed bridge!) than the economic document indicating a fixed bridge as the preferred option is anyones guess. Confused? We certainly are!

The Volharding sails up Newry Canal past Quayside Close in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The Volharding sailing up Newry Canal last Friday, past Quayside Close in Newry. This wouldn't be possible if a fixed bridge is progressed. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

One thing of note though is that Council stopped short of writing to the DFI to say that the bridge 'Must' be a lifting bridge which surely they would be entitled to, as owners and custodians of the Newry Ship Canal. Because the entire discussion was held 'In Committee' we don't know if this was even suggested or how Councillor's reached the decision they did.

If a fixed bridge option is progressed it would mean the end of access for tall ships and most yachts to the Port of Newry. understands that the future potential of having a lifting bridge allowing tall ships and yachts to travel up Newry Ship Canal to the Albert Basin wasn't even touched on in the independent economic assessment document!

Following last weeks behind closed doors discussion of Item 6 on the ERT Agenda "Economic Assessment of Water Based Activities" ERT Director Conor Mallon explained the decisions made:

"During closed session on the proposal of Cllr Stokes seconded by Cllr McAteer, it was agreed that the Committee consider the findings of the independent economic assessment on the potential future economic benefit a lifting bridge would bring to Newry City as part of the Southern Relief Road proposals, to submit this assessment to DFI officials, advise DFI in writing that the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council preferred option is for a lifting bridge over the Newry Canal as part of the Southern Relief Road and include the correspondence for Warrenpoint Port and the potential for future berthing of tall ships."

What the Warrenpoint Port reference means isn't clear. In a comment to on the Southern Relief Road project, a Warrenpoint Port representative said an opening bridge would have no impact on traffic movements at the Port "Warrenpoint Port has always supported and promoted the Southern Relief Road as a key infrastructure project for this area. It would help to deliver a greener and safer access route to the Port.

We are aware of the ongoing discussion and debate in relation to how this project is delivered. Whether the Southern Relief Road has an opening bridge or not will have no impact on traffic movements at Warrenpoint Port, due to the distance of the Port from the preferred location of the crossing.

"We however, try to do everything we can to protect the rich maritime history of this area and we hope that all views will be taken into consideration at this stage and the right decision will be made for our area.

"Our one and only priority remains the timely delivery of this project and we will continue to lobby for it to come to fruition as soon as possible."

The ERT Meeting decisions are subject to ratification at the June full Council meeting.

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