Plans to build a fixed bridge over Newry Ship Canal has been revealed as the preferred design option by the Department for Infrastructure for the planned Southern Relief Road in Newry.

250 Years of Shipping Ended

The proposed bridge would mark the end of 250 years of Newry being open to the world for visiting ships. Newry Ship Canal celebrated its 250th Anniversary in 2019 having opened in 1769.  Half a million pounds was spent in 2016 on the refurbishment of Victoria Lock but a fixed bridge would make the facility virtually obselete.

The end of an era? Johanna Lucretia, just one of the many ships to visit Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The end of an era for ships in Newry Canal? Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

The selected option was revealed in the Department's latest community consultation report published 23 December and would see a bridge with a 35m span and 12m clearance over the canal, far short of the 35m clearance needed by ships presently docked at Albert Basin to access the Port of Newry. An opening bridge would be necessary for ships to enter and exit the canal.

The Southern Relief Road would travel across Greenbank Industrial Estate over the Clanrye River and Newry Ship Canal, up through Fathom Forest to join up with the A1 Dublin to Belfast Road thus giving heavy goods vehicles an alternative route instead of through Newry City. Funding has been allocated for the project from Belfast Regional City Deal and a figure of £110M was suggested as the cost of the project, which at the time included provision of an opening bridge!

The DFI Report voices concerns from businesses, organisations and individuals. As well as the need for an opening bridge other concerns mentioned include residents worried about the effect on their property and businesses requesting access directly from Greenbank Industrial Estate.

Remove HGV traffic from Newry

Seatruck Ferries made a submission in which they outlined their support for the project as it will benefit their business and customers by removing HGV traffic congestion from central Newry, reducing journey times and increasing ease of access to and from Warrenpoint Port.

Victoria Lock shrouded in fog. Half a million was spent on the lock gates just three years ago. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Victoria Lock shrouded in fog. Half a million was spent on the lock gates just three years ago. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

"The road will transform this journey for our customers and removing HGV traffic from central Newry will not only free up the road system but also provide significant environmental and safety benefits. In Lancaster we have seen the removal of traffic revitalize the city centre with increased footfall and spending in local shops."

Navigation 'slightly truncated'

Concerning the fixed bridge the Seatruck submission added that "navigation of the Newry Canal will of course be slightly truncated to high masted vessels by the non-lifting bridge, but I believe this could be mitigated by providing mooring in the basin just below the bridge. Indeed, I feel that this could become a tourist attraction / picnic site in its own right encouraging short cycling and walking trips from Newry.
Given the very small number of tall ships that visit Newry each year I do not see the non-lifting bridge being an issue.
A non-lifting bridge makes it more likely that the scheme will be fundable.
A non-lifted bridge has no risk issues with mechanical failure that a lifting bridge has A non-lifting bridge would be available 24/7 for traffic."

All previous canal basins now car parks

Members of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland Newry and Portadown Branch met with the Department for Infrastructure officials last month where they were told the department were progressing on the basis of a fixed bridge.

A spokesperson commented "The IWAI raised several points about the ramifications if a fixed bridge was to be the final permanent option. We argued that such a structure of the chosen height would change the character of Newry by isolating the city from Carlingford Lough and the Irish Sea making the Albert Basin redundant. Boats and tall ships will no longer be able to enter the Basin. Over 300 years of maritime history will be lost along with plans, which envisages a marina. Many of the boats already in The Basin will have to leave before the bridge is started otherwise they will be locked in.

"Funding for the project at the initial stages included an opening bridge that spanned the canal and river. The IWAI were only lobbying for a bridge that spans the canal, therefore costs would be significantly lower than first conceived.

"Our Newry and Portadown IWAI Association officers stressed at the meeting that no one could put a price on heritage, history, or sense of place. Northern Ireland had already lost much of its industrial past. Closure of access to The Basin threatens its very existence, with all previous basin along the canal now being car parks.
The branch acknowledged that road planners are following a brief set for them by The Department of Infrastructure. But the ultimate arbiters of whether this project should proceed without an opening bridge will be our local, regional, and national politicians.

La Malouine sails up Newry Ship Canal. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
La Malouine sails up Newry Ship Canal. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

"Those who make decisions such as this should be accountable to those who elect them with the IWAI urging the public to lobby for an opening bridge."

Access from Greenbank Imperative

In a submission AJ Plumbing said they believe the road can have a positive effect but emphasise that it is imperative that there is access to the scheme from the Greenbank Industrial Estate.

Reducing Congestion

During consultations in November 2017 and June 2019 respondents were requested by DFI to rank ten factors in order of importance, with one being the most important, and ten being the least. During both consultation events, the primary factor of importance was considered to be ‘reducing congestion’, the least important factor was considered ‘achieving value for money’.

The issue of the Newry Ship Canal remaining navigable was in 9th position although the navigation of the canal was the issue most highlighted as a barrier to support of the scheme in formal submissions with the IWAI stating that “They would have no problem with the scheme should an opening bridge with a span of 20 metres be built across the ship canal”.


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