Narrow Water bridge (co Down to co Louth)


Construction scheme (proposed)
To construct a new bridge connecting the A2 near Warrenpoint, county Down to the R173 near Omeath, county Louth at Narrow Water
Total Length
0.5 km / 0.2 miles

January 2007 - Cross-border funding proposed from Irish NDP

May 2008 - Preliminary route options published

Oct 2008 - Final route and preliminary bridge design published

Apr 2011 - Ground investigation works begin at site

Jul 2011 - Irish government decides not to proceed with scheme
Dec 2011 - Emerges that Louth CoCo may proceed by themselves
Mar 2012 - Louth CoCo applies for planning permission and issues CPO
24 Oct 2012 - Planning permission approved in NI and RoI
24 Oct 2012 - European funding secured to proceed

28 May 2013 - Northern Ireland Dept of Finance approves NI contribution
24 Jun 2013 (or after) - Contractor to be appointed

9 July 2013 - Louth Co Co suspend project due to escalating costs

15 Nov 2013 - EU withdraws funding due to Louth Co Co being unable to secure sufficient funding
Late Jul/Early Aug 2013 - Work was to have begun, before scheme suspended
Nov 2015 - NI and RoI governments agree to prepare a report on options for this scheme
Jun 2016 - Expected completion of aforementioned report (as of Nov 2015)
Sep 2020 - DFI Minister Nichola Mallon indicates her strong support for the scheme
5 Sep 2022 - Construction tender released by Louth County Council
20 Feb 2024 - Scheme given funding by Irish government

24 May 2024 - Work to begin

June 2027 - Anticipated completion (as of May 2024)


€60m for construction as of 2022
(€26-40m for construction as of 2013 – higher than anticipated)
Was to have been £14m from EU, £2.7m from N. Ireland, £0.8m from Louth CoCo (as of May 2013)
changed from €18m (£14.5m) as of Oct 2012
changed from €14m (£11.1m) as of 2008

See below
See Also

General area map - Google
Louth County Council environmental statement on scheme [PDF]

A2 Newry to Warrenpoint on this site
Video flythrough of bridge - YouTube

Click here to jump straight down to updates for this scheme.

This proposal is to build a bridge across the top of Carlingford Lough where it meets the Newry River. The bridge would cross the narrowest point, at Narrow Water Castle, which is about a mile north west of Warrenpoint connecting the A2 Newry to Warrenpoint dual-carriageway to the R173 in county Louth close to Omeath. The bridge would be unusual in that it would cross the international border.

The Irish National Development Plan, launched in January 2007, set aside a large sum of money for projects in Northern Ireland and on cross-border schemes and on 25 January 2007, the BBC quoted SDLP's PJ Bradley as saying that the Irish government had assured him that they would contribute €14m to the scheme. Despite this, the Irish government announced in July 2011 that they would not be progressing the plan. It was then progressed independently by Louth County Council, who secured EU funding for the project. All went well until July 2013 when the project was suspended due to escalating costs and the EU withdrew their funding in November 2013, effectively halting the project for a second time. Road schemes tend to live for longer than governments and recessions do, so this scheme could yet be resurrected at some future date.

Originally three routes were proposed, but the "orange" route was selected (see map below). The proposed design for the bridge was then released. This design was a cable-stayed bridge, with the main support on the southern side, and a smaller moveable section on the north side which would have been able to move to let ships through. The whole bridge would have had a length of 280 metres, with two towers of 100 metres and 30 metres in height.

Maps and Images

Artist's impression of the new bridge, released to the public Oct 2008. [via Irish Independent]

Plan view of the new bridge, as of Oct 2008, showing the channel that boats will use to get under the bridge. [Released to the public Oct 2008]

Route options as presented to the public in May 2008 (NI to top right, RoI to bottom left).
The planners have since settled on the orange route.


8 May 2024: Still no official word on who the winning contractor is, though BAM seems to be the one being named. Sub-contractors have been hiring for the project. Work is due to get underway on 24 May 2024 – just over two weeks from now! The photo below was taken at the weekend by Brian of Old Warrenpoint and shows the signage that has appeared. Another sign nearby on the footpath confirms the date as 24 May and gives the duration of the project as 36 months, as expected. So we can expect completion by the end of spring 2027. This will be a very interesting project to watch happen over the next three years.

VMS sign that reads "Major
                                road works start here May 2024"
Sign reads "This footpath will
                                be closed from 24th May 2024 for 36

17 Apr 2024: Word on the street is that a winning contractor has been selected for this scheme, and that the tender will be formally awarded by Louth County Council in the near future. BAM has been mentioned as the likely winner, but we will see. Construction is likely to begin very quickly, perhaps next month (May).

21 Feb 2024: Yesterday the Irish government announced a range of funding for cross-border projects. Narrow Water Bridge was one of them, though they did not specify the amount (but estimated to be around €60m). This may be because Louth County Council are shortly to award the construction tender. The scheme has been out to tender since late 2022. The tender award is likely to happen by the end of June, and possibly sooner. Construction could then get underway fairly quickly as all the various permissions are already in place. So I would expect to see work on the ground ramping up during the summer. We would then see the bridge completed by mid 2027. Today Pat McGivern spotted some land clearance underway on the county Down side of the bridge site adjacent to the existing roundabout (see photo below). If it's related to the bridge – and it's hard to see what else it could be – it might be either to ensure vegetation is cleared before the bird nesting season, or it might be to prepare the site in more general terms for the contractor to use when setting up. It is now virtually certain that this scheme will happen.

Water on the right, then a coastline in
                          the centre and on the left is a grassy verge
                          with a digger moving earth around.
Clearance works underway at the County Down side of the bridge site on 21 Feb 2024. You can see the existing roundabout on the left. [Patrick McGivern]

1 Nov 2023: Last month I reported some site preparation works taking place at Narrow Water. I commented that the works might be unrelated to the bridge, and alas this turns out to be the case. The works evident are do do with the new Greenway being developed. The official position of Louth County Council remains that work is due to get underway on the bridge itself in the first half of 2024, so a little longer to wait.

6 Oct 2023: In the last update I said I'd anticipate work getting underway on the ground before the end of 2023. However, since then, Louth County Council has indicated that it is more likely to be the first half of 2024 before this happens. I am not sure why it is taking so long given that the tender process has been underway for over a year now, but they are certainly correct. Assuming a three year construction process this would mean an opening around summer 2027. Low-level works have been underway on the Louth bank of the site for some months now. The photo below was taken last month by Liam Rice (thank you). It shows topsoil removed just to the north side of the round tower. This is not the route of the road (it will run to the left of the tower in this view) so I think this is likely to be preparatory work for a site yard or for a temporary works area. (Of course it may be completely unrelated to the bridge – but with nothing else to report you can't blame observers for clutching at straws!)

Water in foreground, round tower to left
                          with various pieces of machinery sitting to
                          its right.
View south-west across Narrow Water from County Down towards County Louth, on 19 Sep 2023 [Liam Rice].

28 Apr 2023: The tendering process now appears to be in a second phase, and tenderers have until the start of June to submit their bids. Since funding and planning permission are in place, I would anticipate construction to get underway before the end of 2023 which would be great. There has been some talk in recent months about naming the bridge after US President Joe Biden, given that he has family connections to County Louth. However at this time the current name of Narrow Water Bridge remains the favourite.

25 Nov 2022: The Irish Taoiseach visited the site of the scheme last week, and announced the commencement of a tender process for construction of the bridge. This was really just a publicity opportunity for Micheál Martin, who ceases to be Taoiseach next month, because the tender was actually released almost three months ago on 5 September (as reported in my previous update below), with a closing date of 23 November. So with the tendering now closed, effort is now going to turn to evaluating the tenders. I would anticipate a contract award before too long, perhaps early in the new year, which would allow the winning contractor to start ramping up equipment at the site. I get the sense that money is unlikely to be an issue this time round (compared to the unsuccessful tendering process in 2013) so I fully expect to see work getting underway during 2023, hopefully by the summer. An exciting time for South Down / Louth!

22 Sep 2022: The construction tender for this scheme was finally released during the week of 5 September. The total estimated value of the tender is €60m, which is considerably higher than the tenders of €26-40m received when the scheme last went out to tender ten years ago. Given that cost under-estimates were the root cause of the collapse of the scheme at that point, it is good to see more realistic cost estimates being given this time round. Contractors have until 9 November to submit their tenders. Since the bridge has already passed all its legal and statutory hurdles, construction could start immediately upon the appointment of a winning tender, which means we'll hopefully see work getting underway during 2023. Construction is due to take three years, meaning completion in 2026. With thanks to Pat McGivern for letting me know about this. The photos below show some preparatory works already taking place.

Site access being prepared on the Louth shore of Narrow Water, ready for work to begin in 2023. [Pat McGivern]

Recently-completed bird refuge at Narrow Water. This is intended to assist birds whose activities will be disturbed by the construction of the bridge. [Pat McGivern]

15 May 2022: On 26 Mar 2022 the DFI Minister "made" the Bridge Orders for the Narrow Water Bridge. These are the legal documents required (on the the Northern Ireland side of the bridge) for DFI to have the authority to build a bridge over a navigable river. In this case, the bridge will feature a lifting section at one end that will preserve navigation. The DFI press release notes that this will allow Louth County Council to bring the scheme to procurement (i.e. to release the construction tender). The Irish government provided Louth CoCo with €3m last summer to assist this part of the process. I am still anticipating the tender to be released sometime this year so things may well continue to move. (The lack of an Executive in NI should not be a major problem as the project is being spearheaded by Louth CoCo.)

2 Mar 2022: The DFI Minister was asked about this scheme in the Assembly a month ago. In her reply she confirmed that the project is being prepared to go back out to construction tender by Louth County Council (the same body that was responsible the last time this happened ten years ago). However, she said that DFI are "working closely with Louth County Council to complete the processes" required to make this happen. She also confirmed that the design being used for the bridge is the same design that was tendered in 2012. She again said that it is hoped that work could commence in 2023, subject to the usual caveats that everything has to navigate the statutory processes.

29 Nov 2021: The DFI Minister met the Irish Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (HLG&H) about six weeks ago on 15 October at the site of the planned bridge, as well as local people. They confirmed that the subgroup of the North-South Infrastructure Group (mentioned in the August update below) has been established to progress the scheme. The DFI Minister also said that she and her southern counterparts are planning to enhance the walking/cycling infrastructure leading to the bridge on both sides. The Irish HLG&H Minister again stated that work would begin in 2023, subject to the successful completion of the statutory processes and appointment of a contractor, so the schedule still seems to be sticking, which is good news. (The DFI Press Release once again incorrectly asserts that Narrow Water Bridge was a key commitment of New Decade, New Approach – DFI continue to repeat this line!)

22 Aug 2021: Work on this scheme seems to be progressing swiftly now that it has commitments on both sides of the border. At the end of June the Irish government allocated €3m to development work on the project from the new Shared Island Fund, and indicated that further funding would be forthcoming for construction once it was progressed to that point. A tender is likely to be released within the next year. The last time the project went out to tender (but did not proceed to construction) it was managed by Louth County Council. This time it appears that a subgroup of the North-South Infrastructure Group will be formed to take this role. This would include Louth CoCo, but also Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. Construction is currently anticipated to begin in 2023 (though technically work began in November 2017, when a small amount of work took place to prevent planning permission expiring). While infrastructure projects are very prone to delays, this scheme certainly seems to have a fair wind behind it at this point.

5 May 2021: The scheme seems to have been discussed at today's meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, though nothing of any substance was said. In February the Infrastructure Minister held a meeting with Newry, Mourne and Down Council, and Louth County Council and then put out a press release affirming her commitment to the scheme (though again implying that it was a commitment of the 2020 New Decade, New Approach document, which it was not). She said "I am committed to the delivery of this iconic project that will allow so many untapped opportunities to open up for South Down and Louth." There appears to be political will on both sides of the border to build this bridge, so the sticking point seems to be who will pay for it. To this end, the Minister was asked about the project in the Assembly on 26 April. She replied that "I remain committed to working with Minister Eamon Ryan and the Taoiseach's office — I am very mindful of the Shared Island Fund — so that we can move the project forward", so this may well be how it is being approached. The last estimate of the construction cost, eight years ago, was between €26m and €40m. DFI, for their part, are calling the ongoing planning costs for the scheme as "pre-committed" in their budget with £5m set aside for this financial year.

22 Dec 2020: As we approach the 14th anniversary of the genesis of this scheme, it has continued its newfound momentum as noted in October's update below. In a Question for Written Answer in the Assembly in early November, the DFI Minister said "The Narrow Water Bridge is a commitment in New Decade, New Approach and is currently at options analysis stage and my officials are working to update an economic appraisal of options for development in collaboration with Southern colleagues in the Department for Transport." (Note that while New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) mentions Narrow Water Bridge as an example of the kind of schemes that the Executive might choose to fund, I do not read it as a commitment in NDNA.) Nevertheless, a recent DFI document setting out their financial priorities lists Narrow Water Bridge as "pre-committed" under NDNA, with a cost for the next financial year (2021-22) of £5m, which is presumably for ongoing planning costs. It's still not clear where the money for the bridge will come from, and how the cost will be split North-South, but it certainly looks as if the Minister is committed to progressing with it.

29 Oct 2020: This scheme seems to be regaining the momentum it had before its collapse during the previous attempt to proceed to construction seven years ago. Firstly, two weeks ago the Irish government announced the creation of a Shared Island Fund, which will have funds of €500m over the next five years to invest in all-Ireland projects. The fund will be used for various purposes, but cross-border infrastructure projects seem to be high on the agenda, especially roads, rail and greenways. They explicitly mentioned Narrow Water Bridge as one of the schemes that they would be interested in funding. So this suggests strong Irish government support. We already know that the current Infrastructure Minister in Northern Ireland is also very supportive of the scheme, so there would seem to be few obstacles now to making progress. At a DFI Weekly Business Review Meeting four weeks ago, it was noted that DFI has been instructed (presumably by the Minister) to "prepare a paper on options for taking forward Newry Southern Relief Road and Narrow Water Bridge projects". This was ahead of the Shared Island Fund announcement, but dovetails nicely with it. So I would expect to hear more about this scheme in the coming months.

11 Sep 2020: It is now almost seven years since the last attempt to build this bridge collapsed due to a combination of unrealistic cost estimates and inadequate funding. A lot has changed in that time, not least the collapse and reinstatement of Stormont and now the tenure of Nichola Mallon as DFI Minister who in recent weeks has gone out of her way to signal her support for the scheme. Two days ago she was photographed with  the Narrow Water Bridge Community Network and local representatives and stated that she supported the scheme, and commented in particular that DFI is now working with the Republic's Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport to develop the project. So with political will apparently there on both sides of the border we could see some further movement on progressing this scheme within the next year or so.

27 Feb 2020: The "New Decade New Approach" agreement that was reached in early January included references to this scheme. The British government section merely listed Narrow Water as an example of the type of scheme the new Executive might choose to fund, without making any explicit commitments to it. The Irish government did not commit any funds either, but did say "The [Irish] Government is also ready to jointly progress consideration of options for the development of the Narrow Water bridge project at the [North South Ministerial Council]". In other words, they're happy to discuss options for progressing the scheme with their counterparts at Stormont. This position is repeated in a recent Written Answer by the new Infrastructure Minister when she was asked about the scheme. She said "I will be reviewing the options that have been considered to support future development of Narrow Water in coming weeks. I recognise the importance of the Narrow Water Bridge project in linking the communities on both sides of the lough and maximising the tourism potential of this cross border region whilst protecting the natural environment in this area of historic and ecological significance." This is not a committment to progress the scheme either, but it does indicate that she is sympathetic to discussing the matter with the authorities in Dublin. We shall have to wait to see if it is discussed at the next Transport Sectorial meeting of the NSMC, which last met in December 2016, shortly before Stormont collapsed.

5 Nov 2017: Planning permission for the Northern Ireland side of the bridge was due to expire on 24 October 2017, since planning permission lasts 5 years here. However, a quirk of the law here means that once a "substantial start" is made the clock stops and the duration of planning permission is effectively unlimited. For this reason Louth County Council seem to have sent a contractor to the Northern Ireland side on the day in question and made a "substantial start" on the bridge, which appears to mean some preliminary earthworks. This is likely to have worked, meaning that for the time being the expiration of planning permission is not an issue. However, there is still insufficient funding for the scheme from either Dublin or Belfast, and no functioning Executive in Northern Ireland, and so there is no sign of if or when further work might get underway.

10 Jul 2017: Concerns were expressed yesterday by an economic development body that Narrow Water Bridge is about to encounter another setback in that the planning permission on the Republic of Northern Ireland side is set to expire in October this year. If it does, then the planners would have to re-apply for permission. In Northern Ireland beginning work is sufficient to stop the clock on expiration (even a few days of topsoil removal would be sufficient) but the same is not true in the Republic. The implication was that the continued non-existence of the Stormont Assembly was preventing planning for the scheme progressing. While this is true, I think the story is bit of a red herring as commencing work by October this year has been off the table for some time already. Firstly, no contractor has been appointed and the process of doing so would take several months by itself. So even if we began tomorrow, there's no way a contractor could be in place and work underway by October. And secondly, even before the Assembly collapsed the DFI Minister Chris Hazzard was talking as if he did not expect work to begin until 2019, and even that was assuming the scheme was being progressed "as a priority" - a much more plausible timeframe in my view. So unless the planning permission can be extended somehow, which depends on the flexibility of the authorities, I think having to re-apply for planning permission is the most likely outcome.

28 Jan 2017: Very little progress has been publicly reported about this scheme over the past few months. However, the outgoing DFI Minister Chris Hazzard has released two press releases a week apart specifically mentioning the scheme and giving some more information. In a press release on 16 January he said "A meeting is now being arranged with key stakeholders to identify the preferred option for the Narrow Water Bridge project. I am determined this is taken forward as a priority with a view to reaching early agreement and enabling construction to begin by 2019, subject to funding and statutory procedures". The DFI is now the lead in this project (previously it was Louth County Council). Although a design is already in place for the previous incarnation of the plan, the reference to "preferred option" probably refers to the fact that the DFI is looking at this scheme and the A2 Newry Southern Relief Road as complimentary projects, as the press release goes on to say. They both cross the Newry River, just at different points, so there is definitely merit in looking at whether they could be combined. A start date of 2019 is very ambitious given that there might need to be a public inquiry process that would take perhaps 6 months, but if there was political will (which of course would require a functioning Executive) and continued progress, and funding from the Executive, it is just about achievable. In fairness to everyone, we also need to note that the current DFI Minister is likely to be standing for election as an MLA in the constituency where these two schemes are partly located. There was then a second press release about Narrow Water on 25 January where the DFI Minister and his southern counterpart jointly stated their committment to progressing the scheme and highlighted the fact that this scheme was one of those explicitly listed in the "Fresh Start" agreement of November 2015. Finally, we have now reached the tenth anniversary of the Irish government first proposing cross-border funding for this bridge in their National Development Plan.

23 Oct 2016: There was another discussion about this scheme in the Assembly on 4 October. The Minister was asked what is happening and he said "I am working actively with people in the South and with my Government colleagues in the South to advance this project. Officials, North and South, are sitting down with the Narrow Water bridge stakeholder group this week and next week to advance proposals. ...I am absolutely determined that this is a project we will see delivered." This language does imply a certain degree of committment from the Minister, who geninely seems to be behind this project, which bodes well for advocates. When he was asked if there is pressure on "this House" (Stormont) to deliver the project he went on to make the comment "Again, it is not for this House but for our counterparts in Dublin". This comment implies that Stormont has a supporting role, but not a leading role, in delivering Narrow Water Bridge. Finally, he said "Councils also have a big role to play, as they have done magnificently so far. The memorandum of understanding between Louth County Council and Newry and Mourne District Council and the leadership that chief executives have shown in recent years have been very important." So the bottom line seems to be that the Minister wants to see this bridge built, and he is working with everyone he can (councils north and south, the Irish government) to find a way to make it happen.

22 Sep 2016: Having had to take some time away from the site over the summer, this update is to catch up on events during 2016. As noted in the previous update (below), the "Fresh Start" agreement in November 2015 committed the two jurisdictions to reviewing this project. In a Written Answer (AQW 1283/16-21) in the Assembly in June 2016 the new DFI MInister said "On behalf of the Executive and working with colleagues in Dublin, my Department has been tasked with taking the lead on this work and a report on options will be presented to the next North South Ministerial Council planned for July. This will enable Ministers collectively to determine how best the Narrow Water Project should be taken forward and allowing for work to be undertaken on establishing robust costings." It is notable that the new Department for Infrastructure is "taking the lead" on studying the options for Narrow Water Bridge. Under the tenure of the previous UUP Minister, the old Department for Regional Development was never enthusiastic about this project, involving itself only insofar as it had to be in order to facilitate statutory processes but not being involved in planning or putting up funding, and indicating that it didn't want to be involved in adopting or maintaining their half of the finished bridge either. Now, under a Sinn Féin Minister, the new Department for Infrastructure seems to be "taking the lead" in the project which is quite a change. The joint communiqué released after the subsequent meeting of the North-South Minsiterial Council, on 4 July 2016, isn't very enlightening. It merely says "Ministers noted the progress report by Senior Officials from relevant Departments in both jurisdictions addressing the Fresh Start commitments, including ...the review of options for the ...Narrow Water Bridge." This suggests that a report on options was not completed in time to be considered at that meeting. Meanwhile, the local media has continued to report on the scheme during 2016. For example, in April the Irish News reported on the possibility that the scheme could be married in with the separate, but nearby, Newry Southern Relief Road project (a project that would bring real benefits, though its achilles heel is its absolutely huge cost-per-mile). The two schemes are not 100% compatible in terms of objectives, but nevertheless I feel the idea has plenty of merit and this option ought to be given serious consideration given that we have to live within financial realities. Additionally, local pressure groups have also continued to highlight the scheme to politicians.

23 Nov 2015: It is exactly a year since the previous update, and two years on from the scheme being suspended by Louth County Council due to insufficient funding. Last week saw the publication of an agreement between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Féin and the DUP which will supposedly end the current impasse in Stormont. Called "A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan", the document contains a lot of information. However, the bit that is relevant to roads is under Section E: "Irish Government Financial Support". It had been hoped by some that the Agreement would see this scheme given funding as part of a kind of "agreement dividend". This hasn't quite happened. Clauses 4.1 and 4.2 state: "The Irish Government remains committed to the concept of the Narrow Water Bridge, which would provide a valuable North-South link between counties Louth and Down with potential to provide jobs and a significant boost to tourism in the area. The Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government agree to undertake a review of the project with a view to identifying options for its future development, for consideration by the North South Ministerial Council in June 2016." While this doesn't commit anybody to any money or even anything concrete at all, it does at least indicate that both sets of authorities are not yet ready to declare this project dead. In June 2016 we will see a report on what options there are for rekindling this scheme, and so there is some hope that it could still be built. There is certainly a lot of local support. So watch this space!

23 Nov 2014: A year on from this scheme's effective cancellation, a new pressure group has emerged which appears to consist of local community leaders, business people and politicians. They have set up a web site here and their aim appears to be to continue to lobby for the provision of this bridge. The text on the main page implies that they are suggesting that the scheme be combined with the nearby proposal for a Southern Relief Road around Newry, linking the A2 Warrenpoint Road to the A1 south of the city. The idea may be that the Southern Relief Road could start on the A1 further south than currently planned, close to the RoI border, and then cross the Newry River at Narrow Water via this bridge. It is an idea that is certainly worth looking into since it would require only one bridge to be built to achieve the aims of both proposals. With thanks to Paul Sloan for letting me know about the new web site.

11 Dec 2013: In my previous update last month I asked a question about the withdrawn EU funding: "if Louth CoCo came up with the extra £5m tomorrow could it go ahead again, or is the withdrawal of EU funds final?". The answer now appears to be "yes", the withdrawal is final and can not now be reversed. According to the DRD Minister in the Assembly yesterday, the EU has indicated that the funding now needs to be redirected to other schemes. However, the Minister announced that it could be redirected towards an upgrade of the flagship, if rather dated, Enterprise train service between Belfast and Dublin and that a North-South meeting was held last week to draw up an application. This would presumably qualify as it is a cross-border service. The Minister went on to confirm that "...the situation has now moved on. SEUPB [the EU] has withdrawn its letter of offer, and, as such, the bridge project is no longer on the table." This, of course, just means that the bridge no longer the funding to proceed now. The project itself has not been cancelled so could still happen at some point in the years to come if a new source of funding can be identified.

15 Nov 2013: In my previous update ten days ago I commented that "the objective of having the bridge completed by the EU's original deadline of June 2015 now seems implausible", and this was confirmed to be the case today when the Special EU Programme Body withdrew their funding, on the grounds that the project's instigators (Louth County Council) have not been able to secure sufficient funding to complete it in time for the deadline of June 2015. Apparently the remaining shortfall was £5m, and most political eyes were looking towards Dublin for this cash, which was not forthcoming despite various meetings apparently going on in recent weeks. With the EU withdrawal, the shortfall is now almost £20m, and it's almost inconceivable that either Dublin or Belfast would be prepared to stump up that level of cash. Two things are not clear. Firstly, is this a final decision? For example, if Louth CoCo came up with the extra £5m tomorrow could it go ahead again, or is the withdrawal of EU funds final? I suspect that the answer is 'yes', it is final as the EU has shown remarkable forebearance with the project's sponsors to date. Secondly, will there be an opportunity to reapply for EU funding? The particular fund in question (Interreg IVA) appears to not have any more cash beyond this year. While various local politicians are still talking about the scheme going ahead, it is hard now to see how this could happen. It looks like the project has now been halted for the second time in three years. However, it has risen from the ashes once before, so we'll not write it off completely just yet. Finally, it has to be pointed out that the fundamental cause of these difficulties is not the willingness or unwillingness of any particular government body to stump up extra cash, but the fact that the project's planners so grossly underestimated the cost of the scheme. The issue of extra funding was more of a salvage exercise.

5 Nov 2013: Although lots of money pledging has gone along which, on paper, seems to be sufficient to pay for the works (see previous update) still nothing more has been announced about this scheme which suggests something is still not right. In the Assembly yesterday, the Deputy First Minister Minister offered some hope, but no timescale: "All of us in the House understand the difficulties around the tendering process and the scale of the tender, which was way in excess of what was expected.  Since that, there have been a number of discussions about whether a remedy could be put in place. [Local MLA] Caitríona Ruane and I were involved in discussions in Rostrevor with the Taoiseach, and I have been involved in other discussions with very senior advisers to the Taoiseach.  I know that, in the background, there is a sense of some remedy for the difficulties that exist." When he was pressed on whether or not the problem was the Northern Ireland Executive, specifically the unionist Finance Minister, he suggested that this was not the case: "...I think it would be wrong to identify our Finance Minister as the problem with regard to Narrow Water. There is, effectively, a responsibility on the Irish Government, ourselves, the Special EU Programmes Body and the councils on both sides of Narrow Water to come up with a solution. I do not know whether that solution can be found. I would like to hear the Irish Government say more about it. In my discussions with the Taoiseach in Rostrevor a number of weeks ago, it was indicated to me that he intended to say something about it but, thus far, there has been silence." This suggests that there is hope of a resolution, but not much more. Certainly the objective of having the bridge completed by the EU's original deadline of June 2015 now seems implausible. The EU may have some flexibility here, but I have not heard this officially.

4 Sep 2013: Louth County Council have spent the past two months looking around to find the extra money needed to complete this bridge following the discovery last month that their working estimates for the construction cost had been at least €8m too low, and possibly more. According to the Irish News today they may have almost raised this amount of money. The article says that Newry & Mourne District Council have pledged £1.8m, Down District Council have pledged £0.5m and Louth County Council have pledged €2m. In addition, it is claimed that an anonymous benefactor in Northern Ireland may provide £4m towards the scheme, and it is also claimed that the Irish government may soon announce that it is to provide another €3m. After converting currencies, this is a total of about €12.5m, which on the face of it would seem to be sufficient. The only unknown is that the EU money supposedly came with a stipulation that work had to be completed by June 2015, which seems unlikely to be met at this point. If this is the case, perhaps local politicians can lobby for leniency. If the bridge does go ahead, I can think of few road schemes in the recent past that have had so many funding sources!

9 Jul 2013: The DRD Minister finally made his announcement on the Bridge Order today. He confirmed that 17 objections had been received, the majority from local fishermen. He went on to say that Louth County Council had had a "series of meetings with some of the objectors". He explained that "In the context of the fact that the original objections were clearly outlined and well articulated, and the additional dialogue between Louth Council and objectors, I concluded that [a Public Inquiry] was not necessary." and concluded that "it is now my intention to make the necessary Bridge Orders in relation to the Narrow Water Bridge project." While this is good news for the project, the same day also saw unexpected and disappointing news from Louth County Council. A contractor was to have been appointed after 24th June, but this has not occurred and the reason is now clear. Louth County Council said in a press release "Having examined all of the tenders received from contractors competing to build the bridge, it is clear that their estimates of the cost of construction are considerably higher than the figures we have been working with to date. This leaves us with a substantial funding shortfall. Our focus now is on seeing if this can be filled through any combination of additional funding and cost reductions." Tenders received seem to have ranged between €26m and €40m, much greater than the total cost of approximately €18m being quoted so far. The shortfall, therefore, is at least €8m and it is unclear where this will come from. In addition, work really needs to get underway this month if the scheme is to achieve the goal of being completed by June 2015, if EU money is not to be lost. The Council have, therefore, said "While our ambition remains to see this socially and economically desirable project through to completion, the reality is that it is now effectively on hold. At this time, we want to record our appreciation for the support that we have received to date from all of the various stakeholders in both the Republic and Northern Ireland." Questions will certainly be asked about why the cost estimates used during the planning process were so far out. Politicians will also be putting pressure on various authorities to come up with additional cash to make the project a reality.

2 Jul 2013: The word on the street is that the DRD Minister Danny Kennedy is in a very awkward position regarding the Bridge Order. The Bridge Order is the final legal framework that needs to be granted in Northern Ireland to allow construction, and basically gives permission to build a structure that could affect the 'navigability' of a river by boats. Apparently 17 objections may have been received, all or most from fishermen, and it's being rumoured that Mr Kennedy's legal advice is that a public inquiry will be necessary (otherwise he could be open to a legal challenge). However he will also be aware that a public inquiry will effectively kill the project since it must start within the next few weeks if Louth County Council are not to lose their EU funding. Apparently a recent petition in support of the bridge collected 1500 signatures. It seems plausible that a range of interest groups will currently be talking to the fishermen behind the scenes in an effort to persuade them to withdraw their objections. It's a very tense and awkward situation for all concerned.

10 Jun 2013: The scheme now seems to be in two halves, divided by the border. On the County Louth side, where there are no obstacles to construction, preliminary site works have already begun (see photo below). These seem to primarily involve vegetation clearance, but an archaeological survey also seems to be planned for the week beginning 17 June. According to the Newry Reporter on 5 June, the project is now out to tender (although I haven't been able to find it online) with a closing date of 14 June, with Louth County Council due to appoint the contractor on or after 24 June. In a best case scenario, this will see construction begin in "late July or early August". Moving to construction will, of course, depend on progress on the County Down side, where the one remaining hurdle is the need for the Bridge Order. The Bridge Order was out out to public consultation, which ended on 4th June. Apparently a number of objections have been received from fishermen who fish for mussels in the immediate vicinity of the bridge, so the Minister will have to decide whether these objections are sufficient to warrant a Public Inquiry. The Northern authorities have been talking to the fisherman in a effort to allay their concerns. Such an Inquiry could take a couple of months, and could jeopardise the project, since the bridge has to be completed by June 2015, or else Louth County Council lose their EU funding. Nevertheless, this is a legal process that can't simply be ignored when it is inconvenient so the Minister will need to take good advice. With thanks, once more, to Patrick McGivern.

Preliminary site works underway at Narrow Water on the County Louth side, around 6 June 2013 [Patrick McGivern]

28 May 2013: In the previous update I mentioned the divergent opinions that surrounded the fact that the Northern Ireland Department of Finance had not yet approved Northern Ireland's share of the funding. Well, today the Finance Minister finally announced that he has approved the funding. This means that Northern Ireland will contribute £2,691,880; Louth County Council will provide £781,962 and the European Union INTERREG IVA Programme will provide the remaining approx £14,000,000. Since the project is not a DRD scheme but has been proposed and developed by Louth County Council, the Department of Finance has put several conditions in place:

  1. Louth County Council (RoI) to be responsible for covering all cost over-runs.
  2. Louth County Council (RoI) to meet all maintenance costs once the bridge is completed.
  3. Newry and Mourne District Council (NI) to meet all operational costs (eg opening/closing).

This was one of two outstanding issues facing the project, the other being the legal process of obtaining a Bridge Order in Northern Ireland (a legal order that is required when someone wants to build a bridge over a waterway that is used by boats). This was put out for public consultation at the end of April, and the consultation ends on 4 June. There is the possibility of a Public Inquiry, but given that any objections would have to be made in relation to the bridge's impact on boats, it is surely unlikely that there could be many, so this may not happen and may not be much of a delay. The scheme has planning permission, and it is even possible that Louth CoCo will take a gamble and go ahead with the process of appointing a contractor ahead of having the Bridge Order in place, which would be fine as long as any actual work does not begin north of the border until it is in place. The bridge must be completed by June 2015 to fulfill the terms of the EU funding, and that would really require work to be underway during this summer, 2013. See Newry Times and BBC coverage for more. Louth County Council's page on the scheme was less than helpful when I checked it!

1 May 2013: In the previous update I mentioned that a Bridge Order was required for the bridge, and this was finally published for public consultation last week, along with some associated legislation to alter rights-of-way in the river. A DRD press release explains that the delay in doing this was due to some late changes that were required to the design. After reading the last sentence in my previous update (below) a researcher at the University of Ulster contacted me to explain why the Northern Ireland Department of Finance needs to give the go-ahead to the project. He said "The funding from the Executive is because Louth and possibly Newry and Mourne Council applied for Interreg funding from the EU for the bridge. One of the unusual features of Interreg funding is that it requires contributions from National Government.  ... Interreg, because of the nature of the work being infrastructure or large scale research projects requires commitment of the national governments and this usually involves a financial contribution. This is why for Louth to draw down the money from the EU to build the bridge, the Executive must commit to the expenditure in the reports." (with thanks to Philip Griffiths) The Department of Finance has still not approved the project, and a wide range of opinions have been expressed as to why this might be (see here, and here, and at various times in the Assembly yesterday). Supporters of the bridge have even started a petition urging a decision. The word on the street is that a decision is likely to be announced in the near future. The EU funding comes with a condition that work is to be completed by 2015, and for this to be achieved work really needs to get underway during the summer.

25 Mar 2013: Louth County Council have received planning permission to build this bridge. However, there are still two obstacles to be overcome. Firstly, according to a press release today, the DRD has now been asked by Louth County Council for a Bridge Order. A Bridge Order is required when someone wants to build a bridge over a waterway that is used by boats ("navigable"), and is designed to prevent a situation where a poor bridge design blocks boats from passing. As required by law, the DRD will put this out for a public consultation during April, and this will last for 6 weeks. If there are a large number of objections they may be forced to hold a public inquiry, but given that the bridge will be of a "lifting" design, it seems unlikely that there could be many objections to the Bridge Order so this may not be necessary. The need for this might scupper Louth County Council's hope to have work underway by the start of July. Secondly, it seems that the bridge does require the approval of the Department of Finance at Stormont, due to the need for Northern Ireland to contribute approximately £2.8m to the scheme (source). I am not sure exactly what this money is needed for but it seems that it still has to get the official go-ahead from the Department of Finance, and that that has not yet been forthcoming. With thanks to Patrick McGivern for keeping me updated.

11 Feb 2013: According to a Question for Written Answer, Roads Service does not intend to adopt the part of Narrow Water Bridge and its link roads that lie in Northern Ireland. "Adopting" is the formal process whereby Roads Service agree to be responsible for the maintenance of a road. Almost all public roads in Northern Ireland have been adopted, and new housing estates are usually adopted after a period of time, so this decision would be unusual. Instead, the road and bridge will be maintained by Newry & Mourne District Council, as part of an agreement with Louth County Council. It perhaps reflects the very unusual cross-border nature and the fact that the origin of the project is in county Louth.

20 Nov 2012: According to an article in the Newry Reporter on 14th November (I only saw a paper copy) Louth County Council have given the timetable for this scheme as follows:

  • 15 Nov 2012 - "Pre-Qualification" questionnaire to be advertised (to shortlist contractors)
  • 17 Dec 2012 - Closure of Pre-Qualification questionnaire.
  • By Christmas - Shortlist of five contractors finalised.
  • Mid January 2013 - Final design of bridge allows main tender process to begin.
  • Mid April 2013 - Closure of tender process.
  • 15 June 2013 - Appointment of contractor
  • 1 July 2013 - Work to begin, to last 21 months, hence:
  • April 2015 - Completion due.

In other news, a video flythrough of the completed bridge is available here on YouTube. With many thanks to Patrick McGivern for sending me both these snippets.

24 Oct 2012: Today it was announced that Louth County Council have been successful in their application for Special EU Projects funding of €17.4m (£14.1m) to cover the cost of the bridge (earlier than I anticipated last week). The exact source of EU funds is Interreg IVa which gives money to areas with social and economic problems caused by the presence of borders. This was the final hurdle for this scheme, since planning approval has already been granted, so I would anticipate a tendering process will commence in the near future. Since this fund requires projects to be completed by 2015, I would not be surprised if work was underway by mid 2013. I have hence moved this scheme up to "schemes likely to commence in the next 12 months". Not bad progress for a scheme I declared dead in July 2011!! Great news for the regions it will serve.

15 Oct 2012: As stated back in March's update (see below), Louth County Council applied for planning permission for this bridge in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland seven months ago. This was granted in Northern Ireland on 12 October, and was granted in the Republic of Ireland on 15 October. This does not mean that work can begin - Louth County Council is depending upon an application they have made for Special EU Projects funding to cover the €18m (£14.5m) cost of the bridge, a decision on which is due to be taken around December this year. One caveat is that any scheme supported by these funds must be completed by 2015. This means that, if the scheme does go ahead, work is likely to start very quickly. Northern Ireland is not contributing funds to the scheme. For those who are interested, a vast array of technical schematics, plans and other documents are available on the Planning Service web site: click here and then click on "Associated Documents". With thanks to Patrick McGivern for information for this update.

6 April 2012: In a Written Answer in the Assembly two weeks ago the "Roads" Minister confirmed that Roads Service is "not in a position to contribute any funds to the Narrow Water Bridge scheme" because "the proposed bridge [does] not improve or extend Northern Ireland’s Strategic Road Network, [and] it would therefore not attract a high priority compared to other schemes". This is not new news, but it does spell out his position unambiguously. The Environment Minister (responsible for planning permission) was also asked about the scheme. He gave a positive response: "Planning are fully aware of the social and economic benefits that would follow from the development of the bridge and these will be taken into consideration in the decision making process, along with the other normal planning and environmental criteria. I recognise that the Mournes and wider area is a wonderful natural asset which should be protected and positively developed. The Bridge Project is an important application and Planning will very carefully consider the proposal." This suggests that the scheme is likely to obtain planning permission. Louth County Council applied for this about a month ago (see previous update).

3 Mar 2012: According to this news story, Louth County Council has now applied for planning permission from the authorities in Northern Ireland for the bridge, and also published the necessary compulsory purchase order to acquire the necessary land on the Republic's side of the border. There is still no confirmation of where the money (quoted as €20m in the article) will come from. In the article, Louth CoCo imply that their main hope is Interreg funding, and that since this comes with a limited timeframe, the scheme must be "good to go" in anticipation of a positive result. With thanks once again to Patrick, and also to Brian of Old Warrenpoint.

16 Jan 2012: It seems that this project might get resurrected, despite the Irish government deciding not to proceed with the scheme last summer (see previous update). According to this news story in The Argus from last month, the scheme has now been taken up by Louth County Council. While it is true that Louth CoCo were already spearheading the project, previously it was to be funded centrally by the NRA. It now seems that Louth CoCo have basically been told that they can still proceed with the scheme, but only if they can come up with the bulk of the cash by themselves. Hence Transport minister Leo Varadkar has told Louth CoCo that they can go ahead and apply for planning approval, and that if they can come up with the bulk of the cash, the NRA will likely stump up a €1.5m contribution. The last cost estimate of the Irish government contribution was €14m in 2007, but it is not known whether this is still valid given the amount of planning that has gone on since then. (It has always been hinted that Northern Ireland might part-pay for the bridge, but this has never been officially stated.) So basically now Louth CoCo will embark on a process of applying to all and sundry for funding, while simultaneously advancing the planning process. Due to this change I am shifting this scheme back out of "Cancelled Schemes" and into "Schemes proposed but with no definite go-ahead", which seems to be a fairer description of its status. With thanks to Patrick for this information.

14 July 2011: According to a Written Answer in the Irish Dáil, the Irish government has decided not proceed with the plan. Transport minister Leo Varadkar said: "Louth County Council submitted an economic appraisal and the completed Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Narrow Water Bridge project to the National Roads Authority (NRA). These reports were reviewed by NRA on behalf of my Department and the NRA recently submitted their report with recommendations in relation to this project. I have examined this report and recommendations and based on the economic appraisal, the current financial circumstances, competing demands from other local authorities for strategic schemes which have a better benefit/cost ratio, this Department is not in a position to proceed any further with the Narrow Water Bridge project, and beyond 2011 no further funding will be made available for it." This seems fairly definite, and doesn't appear to be a simple postponement. It reads as if the Minister has looked at the economic appraisal and decided that the bridge is not worth building. It seems almost impossible to conceive of Stormont stumping up the cash to make up the shortfall. Of course, any scheme can get resurrected at any point, but in the absence of anything official suggesting an intention to go ahead I have moved this scheme to the "cancelled schemes" list. This will, of course, be very disappointing for the people of south Down and Carlingford areas. With special thanks to Slugger O'Toole for spotting this one and breaking the news on his web site, and also to Andrew Gallagher for sending me the link.

1 May 2011: It has been two and a half years after the previous update, and at last there is real evidence that work is progressing. Over the past couple of weeks a platform has been in place at the site of the bridge which, according to Louth County Council, is "working on ground investigations before finalising the design" (Newry Reporter 28 Apr 2011). There is still no official go-ahead for construction which, according to the council, has "no exact timeline". The picture below shows the platform. With thanks to Pat McGivern and Billy Walker.

The engineering platform being used for site investigations
at Narrow Water, as seen on 28 April 2011. [Pat McGivern]

21 Oct 2008: The latest public consultation happened yesterday. The planners have decided on the orange route connecting directly to the existing roundabout on the A2 Warrenpoint Road. The planners also released pictures of the proposed bridge - see above.

24 May 2008: Louth County Council, who are in charge of these early stages of the scheme, held public consultations on 19 and 20 May. The feasibility study is now over, and has concluded that the scheme is viable. The next stage is to look at the engineering issues around the scheme and to that end three possible locations for the bridge were proposed - as shown above. A further public consultation is expected in August.