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Plan to build bridge across Lagan in Belfast 'dead in water' thanks to Stormont stalemate

Exclusive: £9m bridge plan "unlikely" to go ahead

By John Mulgrew

Published 05/06/2015

The final design for the new multi-million pound bridge
The final design for the new multi-million pound bridge

Plans for a multi-million pound bridge crossing the River Lagan in Belfast could be in jeopardy if Government cash cannot be freed up to pay for it, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Just £600,000 has been ring-fenced by the Department for Regional Development to take the project "through the statutory procedures".

But the bulk of the cost - between £7m and £9m - needed to build the bridge is now in limbo amid a continuing budget deadlock at Stormont.

A planning application was submitted just last week for the 141-metre long pedestrian and cycle bridge across the river.

It is designed to link the Gasworks and Ormeau areas.

But while the project has secured a small portion of funding, a contract and cash to build the structure will only be considered by minister Danny Kennedy following an agreed budget.

That is something which has been branded as "unlikely".

A spokesman for the department told the Belfast Telegraph: "£0.6m has been allocated to the Lagan Bridge project in 2015/16 to allow the department to progress the project through the statutory procedures.

"Subject to the satisfactory completion of the statutory procedures and the availability of funding, the department plans to award a contract for the bridge by the end of 2015/16.

"Only when the capital budget for 2016/17 is clear will the minister be able to consider the scope to award a contract for the bridge."

The cash already allocated for early planning and design has been blasted as a "waste of money" by Ukip MLA and regional development committee member David McNarry.

"This is a good concept in times of plenty, but this department is broke," he said.

"It overspent by £6m on the Coleraine railway track. We just can't do this and there's no point in spending money at this stage in project design and planning applications.

"That doesn't make sense - it is just money wasted.

"What will the public think if they do go ahead with this when officials tell us they have no money to cut verges, fill in potholes and empty gullies?

"The unfortunate thing is, this raises expectations which can't be met."

And there is a "high risk that projects like this are in jeopardy", according to Bank of Ireland economist Alan Bridle.

"Clearly, the budget situation is so uncertain and we are not privy to all the figures that the politicians are arguing about," he said.

"In a scenario, if there is no resolution (with the budget) apart from the care and maintenance, paying the salaries, I'm struggling to see what else they will spend money on."

Initial plans for the bridge were unveiled last year, with a handful of proposals put out for consultation.

Then, in January, one of the 10 blueprints was selected to be put forward as the final design.

At the time Mr Kennedy said the design would result in an eye-catching construction connecting two of the city's key assets. But the bridge could be the first of many big-budget projects likely to be axed as a result of cuts and the welfare stalemate.

This latest potential blow comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed there would be no Northern Ireland Environment Agency funding for any listed building grants in future as a result of the cuts.

That has already impacted on major hotel projects such as the Scottish Mutual in Belfast, which faces a funding shortfall as a result of the freeze.

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