Belfast Telegraph

Cross-border bridge on hold after costs 'significantly underestimated'

Margaret Ritchie MP demands meeting with Taoiseach after long-awaited project put on ice once again

BY JOHN MULGREW

A long-awaited cross-border bridge finally given the green light decades after it was first envisaged has once again been put on hold.

The Narrow Water bridge planned to link counties Down and Louth across Carlingford Lough - with funding coming from both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The majority of the build is being paid for with EU funding - but a £10 million plus commitment from Europe would only have been released if the authorities agreed to provide a proportion of match funding.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson finally gave approval for the project on a number of financial conditions and undertakings from both Louth and Newry and Mourne councils, earlier this year.

But today a spokesman for Louth County Council said predicted costs had grown "considerably higher" leaving it with a "substantial funding shortfall".

It said tenders received ranged from €26m to €40m.

"Having examined all of the tenders received from contractors competing to build the bridge, it is clear that their estimates of the cost of construction are considerably higher than the figures we have been working with to date.

"This leaves us with a substantial funding shortfall. Our focus now is on seeing if this can be filled through any combination of additional funding and cost reductions."

South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie - a long time supporter of the project - has now demanded a meeting with the Taoiseach following today's news.

"I and my colleagues in the SDLP are determined to continue our fight for this project along with the local community, the Chambers of Commerce, and other public representatives to ensure that this important piece of North/South tourist infrastructure is delivered to the Carlingford Lough area," she said.

"At this time, the financial support and solidarity of both the British and Irish Governments as well as the Northern Ireland Executive is required to deliver this project which would assist in making a contribution to the local economy in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth."

It had been hoped the new link would provide greater trade and tourism links between Northern Ireland and the Republic after plans were initially drawn up for the project almost 40 years ago.

But, initial design stages of the multi-million pound development were first unveiled in 2008.

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