Funding for a new £14m cross-border bridge has been given the go-ahead by N. Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
The Narrow Water bridge is to link the counties of Down and Louth across Carlingford Lough.
The scheme will be subject to various conditions in relation to its upkeep by Newry and Mourne Council as well as Louth County Council.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has yet to decide if a public inquiry should be held.
In March, he said that following a consultation period, he would have to consider whether a public inquiry was necessary, “depending on the number and nature of objections – if any”.
The consultation period ends on 4 June.
The bridge is to be 660 metres (2,165 feet) long across the Newry river channel.
The majority of the funding for the project is coming from Europe, with the Department of Finance contributing £2,691,880 and the Republic of Ireland providing £781,962.
“Funding of £14m for the Narrow Water bridge has now been given approval subject to clarification on technical conditions applicable to the Letter of Offer,” Mr Wilson said.
“As with any project offer, the Letter of Offer for the Narrow Water bridge Project will include a number of important conditions.
“One such condition is a commitment by Louth County Council that they will have sole responsibility for any cost overruns associated within the eligible spend timeframe and in the event that the project would extend outside this period.
“Louth County Council shall also meet all the maintenance and associated costs related to the upkeep of the bridge and its service area.”
The project is supported under the EU’s INTERREG IVA programme.
A spokesperson for the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) said: “The SEUPB has received official confirmation from the Department of Finance and Personnel that financial support will be made available for the Narrow Water Bridge project.
“This confirmation will enable the SEUPB to issue a letter of offer of 17,369,210 euros under the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme, to the lead partner of the project, East Border Region.”
The chairman of East Border Region, Councillor Gerald Mallon, welcomed Mr Wilson’s decision to approve the project.
“The Narrow Water bridge is a genuinely symbolic cross border project providing the first bridge linking Ireland and Northern Ireland and will provide a catalyst for both economic development and tourism within the region,” he said.
“The bridge development will provide much needed jobs in the construction sector in the short term and will undoubtedly enhance the tourism potential of the region as it acts as a gateway to the Mournes and Cooley mountains.”
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, of the SDLP, said the project was one of the most important north-south projects to be brought forward.
“The project is a shining example of how far we have come as a community and in our north-south relations,” she said.
“It also symbolises the future of our economy, which is in our tourism product, and this is now something, thanks to the peace process that we can export worldwide.”
Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane said the announcement had the potential to transform the economic prospects of the entire region. Source: BBC News