The first new cross-border bridge since partition has been given the go-ahead in Northern Ireland.
The £22 million single carriageway structure will span the Newry River not far from Warrenpoint and link Co Down with Co Louth near Omeath and close to Carlingford Lough. The total length is approximately 660 metres and the project is seeking most of the money from the EU``s fund for development in border regions.
Narrow Water Castle came to world prominence in 1979 when an IRA ambush killed 18 soldiers in two explosions. Now the area is better known for its wild beauty spots and music festivals, attracting visitors from across Ireland.
Pamela Arthurs, who helped lead efforts to build the bridge on behalf of district councils, said: “We have first initiated this in 1976 and this has been a major project but it is not just about the fact that we will have a bridge, it is what it symbolises in how far we have come as a country.”
Planning Minister Alex Attwood approved the application and said he hopes that a similarly positive decision will come from the authorities in the Republic where the matter is still being considered. An application has been made by Louth County Council and a separate application is before An Bord Pleanala.
Mr Attwood said: “The bridge will act as a gateway to the Mourne and Cooley mountains for people and tourists south of the border, making it much easier for visitors travelling each way.”
It is the most significant infrastructure project in the border region for many years and the first north/south bridge since partition in 1921, he said.
This development will improve accessibility to a region of natural beauty featuring the mountain ranges and Carlingford Lough.
The bridge would open to enable tall ships, leisure craft and other vessels to use the Victoria Lock and Albert Basin in Newry, he said.
“It will be a great economic boost for the area, creating construction jobs in the short term, enhance tourism and promote greater community interaction across the border,” he said.
The bridge crosses the Newry River at Narrow Water to the Omeath Road near the village of Omeath in Co Louth.
Planners in Northern Ireland received objections to the proposal surrounding sediment in the navigational channel, access to buoys and lights on the Newry River, access to the control tower, potential changes to aids to navigation and road safety and traffic, in particular around a nearby roundabout.
The project is seeking £17.2 million from the Special EU Projects Body.
SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said: “Many people in the local community in Warrenpoint and in Cooley in County Louth who have worked on this project for years have yearned for this day to come. Today’s decision is testimony to their dedication, resilience, belief and hard wor