Strabane to get its £3m iconic bridge

AN iconic footbridge linking Strabane’s east and west wards will be in place next year, more than 40 years after it was first proposed. The focus of ongoing and until now unsuccessful campaigns, the project stalled for years as lobbyists struggled to secure an outstanding £2.2m funding. Some £600,000 had been pledged and the Department of Social Development had agreed to put up the remaining £2.2 million

This week the department followed through on its pledge. Within weeks consultants will be appointed to start designing the foot and cycle bridge, which councillors have lobbied for on health and integration grounds for more than a decade. Social Development Minister, Alex Attwood, officially made the announcement at Melvin Hall yesterday (Tuesday). Designing will be complete by July, allowing for the start of construction before the year’s end. Located 250 yards upstream from the existing road bridge, ‘Melvin Bridge’ will span more than 70 metres, linking residents of the east and west wards and opening access to leisure facilities

A central plank of the Bridges campaign has been its health benefits, as it offers an alternative, scenic route for walkers, cyclists and local school pupils. Good news “This is good news for people in Strabane. I can confirm that my department has provided funding to Strabane District Council to undertake detailed design work for the Melvin Bridge,” Mr Attwood said at yesterday’s event. “This bridge will greatly improve the links between the communities on both sides of the River Mourne, provide greater access to the sporting facilities in Melvin Park and introduce safer routes to local schools.” He added:

“The council – in partnership with DPF’s central procurement directorate – has now begun the process to appoint consultants to undertake this work, which is a key element in the process of bringing the Melvin Bridge to reality. “I anticipate that the design work will be completed by July and the council will be able to begin construction before the end of the year, allowing the bridge to be in place by late 2012. ” Strabane District Council, Strabane 2000 and Sustrans have all welcomed the move. Councillor Michaela Boyle, chairperson of Strabane District Council, said: “Strabane District Council welcomes this excellent news. The Melvin Bridge has been in the planning stages for many years and it now looks certain that this iconic bridge will change the landscape of the river by 2012. “We thank our funders – particularly DSD [Department of Social Development] and Sustrans – and we now feel confident that construction will begin in 2011”

Chairman of Strabane 2000, councillor Eugene McMenamin, also spoke of his “delight”. ‘Jewel in the crown’ “The bridge will be the ‘jewel in the crown’, both visually and environmentally,” he said. “I compliment all those involved over many years with Strabane 2000 in their endeavours to secure funding for the bridge. I would like to thank Minister Attwood and his department for his commitment to the project.” His party colleague and SDLP West Tyrone Assembly candidate, Joe Byrne, said the development ‘augers well’ for Strabane. “[This] proves what can be done and whenever there’s a will, there’s a way. The Department for Social Development has shown great leadership on this and the people of Strabane will now enjoy the results,” he said

The Melvin Bridge in Strabane is part of charity Sustrans Connect2 project, which delivers new walking and cycling links for everyday journeys in communities across the UK. The Connect2 project received £50million from the Big Lottery Fund, following a public vote in 2007. Rick Cook, scheme manager for Sustrans, added: “This is a very welcome step forward in the realisation of this project, which once complete will benefit greatly the local community of Strabane, providing more options for making local everyday journeys on foot or by bike. “The River Mourne provides a significant barrier for such journeys, and the new bridge will make more local journeys to school and other local amenities that little bit easier.”