Quoile Bridge closure to last for three weeks

Quoile Bridge closure to last for three weeks

29 November 2023

THE Quoile Bridge in Downpatrick has been closed for three weeks.

The Department for Infrastructure has decided to press ahead with repairs to the 100 year-old structure damaged in a recent accident and not wait until after the busy Christmas holiday period.

Contractors closed the bridge which spans the Old Belfast Road at noon last Sunday, with repairs getting underway to a masonry parapet on Monday morning.

Traffic coming into Downpatrick from Killyleagh is being diverted via the Finnebrogue Road with road users asked to follow all diversion signs.

Confirmation that repair work is underway comes less than a month after the bridge was struck by what is believed to have been a lorry, prompting questions about its maintenance.

A large crack opened between the bridge wall and the road while one of the structure’s buttresses was reported to have collapsed.

Structural engineers carried out a detailed investigation of the bridge and heavy concrete bollards were initially placed either side of it to keep traffic away. They were subsequently removed to allow one part of the road over the bridge to reopen.

Politicians had called for the outcome of the structural report to be made public, while Downpatrick traders warned any long term closure of one of the main arteries into the heart of the town would impact on the business community working hard to recover from the recent devastating flood which decimated the town centre.

Within hours of roads officials being made aware of the damage to the bridge, contractors arrived to remove grass blocking the flow of water under its archways. 

Debris was also removed from the old flood gates at the Quoile Road just a short distance away, while concern remains that overgrown foliage and the build-up of tonnes of silt and sludge at the archways under the Belfast Road bridge are stifling the flow of the waterway.

It was confirmed last week that the Department for Infrastructure has no plans to dredge the Downpatrick river in the wake of the recent devastating town centre flood.

Up to 50 businesses were impacted by the flood with the cost of repairs, restocking and loss of business, estimated at well in excess of £10m.

In the wake of the flood — which saw a number of businesses swamped with up to six foot of contaminated water— an online petition was launched calling for the river to be dredged.

To date, over 1,300 people have signed the petition, but the DfI is refusing to budge on the dredging issue and says it won’t be happening.

The department has confirmed that there are currently no plans in place to dredge the Quoile as it offers “limited protection” against flooding.

The online petition was started by Daniel Carling, a local environmental activist and angler, who believes that it is “vital” for the government to act as a matter of urgency “before we are flooded again”.

And he believes that the recent disaster, which flooded businesses and the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway, “could have been avoided or at least minimised” if the Quoile had been dredged. 

He said one of the sole purposes of the river is to ensure the town stays drained from water and to carry water out to the sea.

Mr Carling argues the amount of sediment building up on the riverbed drastically reduces the river’s capacity to hold water. 

“For many years, local anglers have been raising the issue of dredging the Quoile and our concerns over flooding the local town,” he said.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council recently called for an urgent inquiry into failures that led to flooding devastation, but the Department for Infrastructure insists that dredging “offers limited protection” against flooding and there are currently no plans in place to dredge the river.

It says unprecedented rainfall throughout the wettest October in over 153 years resulted in many watercourses in the south and east of Northern Ireland  rising to record levels, resulting in widespread flooding across this region.

“The Department understands the concerns in relation to flooding in Downpatrick; however dredging offers limited protection to mitigate against flooding on the scale experienced recently across the south and east area of Northern Ireland,” it said in a statement.

“Inspections are undertaken at the Quoile River to ensure that the water is free flowing.”