By David Young, PA
Plans for the Narrow Water bridge will not be derailed by another party taking the infrastructure portfolio post-election, the current Stormont Minister has said.
Nichola Mallon said she hoped that construction on the long-delayed cross-Border project could begin next year.
Last year, the Irish Government announced a €3 million funding commitment that would enable Louth County Council to start a tender process for the build.
A bridge linking Omeath in Co Louth and Narrow Water Castle on the outskirts of Warrenpoint in Co Down is among infrastructure commitments in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal that restored Stormont power-sharing.
Ms Mallon’s SDLP colleague Sinead Bradley asked about progress during Assembly question time on Tuesday.
“The Narrow Water bridge project is a ministerial priority for me, as well as a key commitment in New Decade, New Approach,” she replied.
“I’m pleased that I’ve been able to make progress and, working with the Irish Government, funding has been secured, and that working with partners and stakeholders we are progressing on the delivery of this very important bridge.
“The bridge will be an iconic landmark that will increase connectivity and maximise the tourism potential for the cross-Border region.
“I want to assure the member that I am determined that we work at pace so that this long-awaited, much-needed project moves from concept to reality as quickly as possible for the people of South Down.
“Subject to completing the necessary development and statutory processes, construction on the bridge could commence next year.”
While the Irish Government is providing funding for the bridge construction, Ms Mallon is working on developing active travel networks around it, like cycle and pedestrian connectivity.
As part of that, she has made a bid for funding from the UK government’s Connectivity Review.
Ms Bradley asked what would happen if a new minister took on the infrastructure portfolio following May’s Assembly election.
“I’m conscious of our short mandate that’s left, so I want to ask the Minister can you give an assurance that this project has been developed sufficiently within the department to ensure that any incoming minister will have a clear pathway to its completion,” she said.
Ms Mallon replied: “In respect of the plans of a future minister, I want to assure the member and the House that we have been working to advance all of the stages required as quickly as possible.
“But Narrow Water bridge is an NDNA commitment, it is a five-party agreement, and so I would expect any future minister to continue to work with the Irish Government, which is committed to funding the project, to ensure that we can see it finally delivered.”