SOUTH Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) has accused Finance Minister Sammy Wilson of dragging his feet and hiding behind other government departments when it comes to approving funding for the iconic Narrow Water Bridge project.
Ms Ritchie said: “The Finance Minister said he couldn’t approve the outstanding £2m for the Narrow Water Bridge until the Department of Regional Development had prepared a Roads Order.
“Following further representations to the Minister for Regional Development, I have now received confirmation that his Department is currently preparing the draft Roads Order and they are expected to published in April 2013. However, according to Minister Kennedy the formal “making” of the Orders will not happen until the Department for Finance and Personnel approves the business case.
“This response clearly states that the Minister for Finance can make the decision to approve the Narrow Water Bridge funding now and that this decision is not held back by the work of the Department of Regional Development, despite claims to the contrary.
“Some five months after the SEUPB and the Irish Government approved funding for the bridge the Minister for Finance must now come off the fence and approve the remaining funding so construction can go ahead and deadlines can be met. If the Minister for Finance is in any doubt about this process he should speak directly to his Ministerial Colleague Minister Kennedy.
“If it remains the case that the Minister for Finance is not prepared to approve the funding then the First and Deputy First Ministers must ensure that a decision is taken without further delay, in the interest of the wider community and the tourism industry in the South East and throughout the Island. Furthermore as this is an important North South economic development project there is now a clear need for the direct intervention of the British and Irish Governments to ensure that this project faces no more impediments.
“I have requested meetings with the First and Deputy First Ministers, the Taoiseach and have made representations directly to the British Government. There can be no further unnecessary delay in this iconic project,” added Ms Ritchie.