Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Stormont spat as £14m cross-border bridge is approved

A political row has erupted over plans to build a new cross-border bridge.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood took to the floor of the Assembly to defend his handling of how he gave his approval for the Narrow Water Bridge.

The SDLP MLA said he felt compelled to take the exceptional step after questions were raised about the speed at which the application was processed.

He said: “There is no smell around this process and decision. There are only the standards of good planning, good practice and good government.”

In October the European Union said it would give €17.4m (£14.1m) for the 660m single-lane cable bridge between Co Down and Co Louth. The bridge could be open by 2015.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson warned that the Executive could be left with a multi-million pound bill for the bridge.

Mr Attwood denied there was a spat between Stormont ministers over the bridge but said he had |decided to speak out because accountability practices had been called into question.

Mr Attwood added: “This was a good planning decision, made in good time, on good grounds.

“This proposal attracts cross-community and cross-border support. It is a planning application that builds trade, tourism and relationships.

“It is an application that Europe wants to support, Dublin wants to support and Belfast should support. It is hard to fathom why a few want to impede its progress. |Certainly, interrogate the |evidence, if that is done on proper grounds.

“But in doing so, do not claim anything other than the planning decision was robust, thorough, evidence-based, consistent with the law, policy and good practice.”

A number of major applications, including IKEA at Belfast's Holywood Exchange, an industrial development at Carnbane, Newry, and a shopping development at Northcott, Glengormley, were highlighted as having been dealt with quickly.

Meanwhile, DUP MLA Lord Morrow said: “I have listened to the minister intently. And I think the more he speaks the more he digs himself into a hole.

“There is a smell around this work and he may try to deny that, but it seems very strange that we had an application lodged on February 9 and the minister has it all done and dusted within a couple of months.”

Factfile

The bridge at Narrow Water will be the first such cross-border link to be built since partition in 1921.

It will be sited at the scene of the infamous Narrow Water massacre in 1979, when 18 British soldiers were killed in an IRA double bomb attack.

It is hoped it will increase tourism, and promote economic development and job creation.

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