A controversial plan to build a new pedestrian and cycle bridge across the River Shannon in Athlone's historic old town centre has been given the go-ahead by An Bord Pleanála.

The new structure is a two-span 104 metre-long bridge with a pier in the middle of the river and will link a public marina in Leinster with Athlone Castle in Connacht.

The bridge is less than 100m from the old road bridge across the Shannon built in the 19th Century

Opponents to the development have claimed it will visually destroy views of the town's historic crossing of the Shannon  and damage archaeological heritage on the site.

The present bridge from east to west was built by Thomas Rhodes in 1844, to replace an earlier bridge constructed in the 16th century and destroyed during the Williamite war.

A public planning hearing, held by An Bord Pleanála last July, was told there will significant archaeological impacts caused by the construction on the historic town, Athlone Castle and the River Shannon.

39 sites of archaeological or cultural heritage are identified within 50m of the new bridge.

Five of the identified sites will be impacted directly and the hearing was told historic town will experience a significant negative impact, but this would be mitigated by archaeological test excavation and resolution of subsurface works.

The Planning Inspector found the development was justified to facilitate the new Dublin to Galway Greenway cycle route and that the direct impacts are minor, can be mitigated and the indirect and cumulative impacts are negligible.