Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Saturday, 20 December 2008

Inquiry call over Thames bridge

MP Martin Slater hands out leaflets to drivers
Protesters are calling for a government inquiry into the scheme

A public inquiry should be held before prices are doubled on a privately-owned toll bridge across the River Thames, councillors say.

The owners of the 106-year-old Whitchurch Bridge, linking Pangbourne, Berkshire and Whitchurch, Oxfordshire, want to increase fares from 20p to 40p.

They say the money is needed to pay for a 3.2m replacement crossing for 6,500 vehicles that use the bridge every day.

South Oxfordshire District Council agreed to push for a public inquiry.

The Whitchurch Bridge Company has applied to the Secretary of State for Transport for permission to increase the fare.

The new prices could be in place from July 2009.

The council said the motion to ask the government for a public inquiry had received "unanimous support".

'Deeply concerned'

Cllr Pearl Slatter, said: "There is a great deal of concern in the community over the proposed toll increases but it's a small voice in a large region so the council's support, along with that already received from local MPs, will make a big difference in getting our voice heard.

"We don't doubt there's a need to address the structural difficulties affecting the Whitchurch Toll Bridge, but are deeply concerned that local people are being penalised through excessive charges.

A protest was held last week over the proposed toll rise

"A public inquiry would ensure that the costs of any works is transparent, fair and takes into account the long term needs of the community."

Last week, motorists angry at the proposed fare increase left their cars at home to protest on the bridge and hand out leaflets to passing drivers.

They said there was no alternative bridge in the area for several miles.

The grade II listed structure was built in 1902 and is the third crossing at the site.

If the toll increases go ahead, work to build a replacement bridge is planned for 2013.

The Whitchurch Bridge Company said it had come up with a design which was in keeping with "the character and appearance" of the existing bridge.

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Protest over plans to raise toll
11 Dec 08 |  Oxfordshire

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