THE arguments for scrapping tolls on the new Mersey Gateway crossing were made “very strongly” in a Parliamentary debate today (December 5).
City of Chester MP Chris Matheson applied for the debate in October, and several MPs representing constituencies in the North West attended to make their views known.
Charges on the six-lane Mersey Gateway crossing, which links Runcorn and Widnes, range from £2 to £8, and it is estimated that commuting across the Mersey could cost a working family £1,000 a year.
Mr Matheson said his Parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the Mersey made their arguments against the four tolled crossings of the river very strongly.
He said he was disappointed that Jesse Norman, parliamentary under secretary of state, did not address all the points raised, partly due to time constraints on the debate.
But Mr Matheson said he would be continuing to push for a “just settlement”.
“This is not going to go away,” he said.
“One thousand pounds a year to go to work is an intolerable and unacceptable additional cost.”
Before the debate, the Scrap Mersey Tolls group contacted 25 MPs urging them to attend as well as providing them with facts and figures.
Scrap Mersey Tolls “believes that all the tolls have a negative effect on a wide area and should be removed”.
Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury blasted the ‘scandalous’ situation of having four tolled crossings over the Mersey in the debate.
During the debate he also pointed the finger of blame at the Conservative government, due to the fact former Chancellor George Osborne had promised free tolls for Cheshire West and Warrington in the run-up to the 2015 election.
He told MPs: “It wasn’t Halton Council, or the Labour Party who made and broke a promise to my constituents on bridge tolls – it was the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is the Conservative Government who must be accountable for this.”
He added: “Over £1 million in fines have been dished out in one month – and I have personally spoken to one elderly resident who had been in tears at the prospect of an £80 fine just before Christmas, simply for being a day late to pay the toll.
“Constituents are being hit with bills of £150 if they break down, due to a contract that means they must be towed by an approved private contractor and pay a charge before their car can be released from a compound.”
Mr Amesbury also expressed disappointment at the way his calls for free travel over Christmas were dismissed so quickly by bridge bosses.
He added: “It’s not good for our economy, and it isn’t good for our region.
“I urge ministers to join me and my colleagues in finding a solution that ends tolls on the Mersey Gateway Bridge sooner, rather than later.”
Last month, it was revealed that £1 million in fines have been issued to motorists using the Mersey Gateway Bridge in its first month of operation.
Toll operators Merseyflow have confirmed about 50,000 penalty charge notices (PCNs) were dished out in the first four weeks following the opening of the bridge on October 14.
Motorists have until midnight the day after their crossing to pay their toll. If they miss the deadline, they are issued with a £20 fine which can increase to £60 if not paid in time.
David Parr, chief executive of Halton Borough Council and the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, has hailed the bridge as “really popular” after more than two million journeys were made across it from October 14 to November 14.
Mr Parr said: “We are averaging 72,000 vehicles every weekday, which is over and above what we expected, and this shows people are enjoying the quicker, easier and more reliable journeys the bridge brings.”
See full story in the Chester Leader