Minister challenged on claims Southern Relief Road bridge 'would provide access for the majority of vessels'

No Boats No Votes campaigner, Brian Trainor.No Boats No Votes campaigner, Brian Trainor.
No Boats No Votes campaigner, Brian Trainor.
​Infrastructure Minister, John O’Dowd, has been challenged on his claim that the height of the fixed bridge which forms part of the Southern Relief Road “would provide access for the majority of vessels” wishing to use Newry Canal.

Last week the Newry Reporter told how Mr O’Dowd had said that a “lifting bridge would introduce new features of greater mass within the setting of the Ship Canal creating a detrimental impact on the Scheduled Monument”, while a a 50m fixed bridge “will add features that would generally be less conspicuous in this setting”.

“Both options would permit vessels access to the Albert Basin. Whilst the lifting bridge would allow unrestricted access, the opening of such a bridge would be restricted to allow its operation as a strategic route. The fixed bridge option provides a clearance of 12m height, which would provide access for the majority of vessels using the Newry Canal thereby protecting and enhancing Newry’s maritime history and heritage,” he added.

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​Spokesperson for the No Boats No Votes campaign, Brian Trainor, challenged this view, stating that in recent years vessels of all sizes have made the journey up the Ship Canal to attend community events and festivals.

"Independent experts have confirmed that the vast majority of those boats would have been blocked by the proposed bridge,” he said. "We have asked the minister to provide evidence for his claim so that the public can finally get to the truth of the matter.

"The Minister also states that an opening bridge would have a ‘detrimental effect’ on the Ship Canal. It seems strange to claim to be concerned about preserving the character of the canal, while at the same time planning to build a busy HGV route across it, thereby destroying its primary function as a navigable waterway."Finally, at the last local election, local parties pledged to oppose any plans to build a fixed bridge across our Ship Canal. With another election coming in the next few weeks, we hope that voters will remind local candidates of that promise."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the IWAI Newry and Portadown branch has said that the minister’s decision is “extremely disheartening”.

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In relation to the claim that a fixed bridge does the least damage to the protected scheduled monument, they state: “During the consultation process the project team repeatedly demonstrated that the cheapest option for a moveable bridge caused the same impact to the scheduled monument as the fixed bridge so that on its own merit is not an excuse to cut the canal in half.

"Additionally one of the reasons for the opening bridge at Warrenpoint was to maintain full access to the ship canal and Albert Basin. Why then would you travel half the canal to go no further?

“From an economic stand-point, it actually prevents an entire section of potential economic, recreational, and environmental benefits to Newry that would generate increased footfall and revenues for the City and surroundings. Having an opening bridge is not just for the few, it is an asset to communities, charities, and the public of Newry, and it ensures current and future generations have the ability to create a unique vibrant maritime city to be proud of.”

The group say that they are struggling to understand “why the canal always comes last in governmental decisions in Newry, and without having a voice the canal and basin will be consigned to history rather than continuing to be a part of it”.

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They added that they would be fully opposing to the road in its entirety if the decision for a fixed bridge is upheld and called on the council to “refuse to accept the fixed bridge decision, while also identifying any funding or grant streams available, so that a opening bridge can be included”.

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