Narrow Water bridge plan is put on hold
Plans to build a cross-border bridge between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have been put on hold.
Louth County Council said tenders had been significantly above the figure expected for the Narrow Water bridge project.
Funding for the bridge had been approved by Northern Ireland Finance Minister Sammy Wilson in May.
It had been planned the bridge would be built with support from the NI and Irish Republic governments and the EU.
Louth County Council said tenders it had received from construction companies for the project had ranged from 26m euros (£22.4m) to 40m euros (£34.5m).
"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," the council said in a statement.
"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.
"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."
In a written statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday, Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy announced his decision to proceed with the bridge orders for the project. He said he understood the bridge orders would not have taken effect until mid-October.
He later said that since making his statement to the assembly, he had learned that Louth County Council had announced the project had been put on hold.
Mr Kennedy said that this decision was unexpected and that it was "coincidental" that the council had made their decision on Tuesday.
He said it would have to be a Northern Ireland Executive decision if any additional funding was provided for the project and further support would be needed from the Irish government.
"Whether or not it is worth pursuing that will be a matter for the promoters," he added.
"Alternatively, and I think separately, what the Department of Finance has to look at is whether or not there is benefit in bringing forward other schemes that can meet the deadlines and can come in under budget and that can spend European money that is available to us."
The Special European Union Programmes Body said on Tuesday it had only recently "been informed of the tender response values for the construction of the Narrow Water Bridge project".
It said it was "currently in discussions with the lead partner, East Border Region, to ascertain the full implications of this information and its impact on the project's delivery".
The MP for South Down, Margaret Ritchie, has demanded a meeting with the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny over the decision by Louth County Council to halt the project.
She said she would be urging Mr Kenny "to explore and to try and provide additional funding for the project and to examine if the European Union might have resources to assist with reducing the shortfall".
"At this time, the financial support and solidarity of both the British and Irish governments as well as the Northern Ireland Executive is required to deliver this project which would assist in making a contribution to the local economy in South Down and the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth," she added.
Sinn Fein assembly member, Caitríona Ruane, said "all should endeavour" to ensure the project reached completion.
She said her party remained committed to the scheme, which was of "huge significance" for the area.
"Given that this is an infrastructural project, in the overall scheme of things it is a relatively small amount of money and must be considered alongside the long-term economic benefits that it would bring to the Down and Louth area," she added.
"I would press the Irish and British governments along with the (Northern Ireland) Executive and Europe to work closely together in order to ensure that the money is found and this project can reach completion."