Page last updated at 18:58 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 19:58 UK

Mersey crossing inquiry under way


Motorists will have to pay to cross the 431m bridge

A public inquiry into plans to build a second bridge across the River Mersey is under way in Cheshire.

The £431m Mersey Gateway toll crossing would link Runcorn and Widnes in Cheshire, to ease congestion on the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge.

Halton Borough Council, which submitted the plans in 2008, said the crossing would help create thousands of jobs.

Opponents of the scheme said that tolls planned for both bridges would cast an "economic blight" across the area.

Under the proposals, users of the existing - and free to cross - bridge would also be charged tolls once the new crossing opens.

The bridge is 50 years old and whatever happens that bridge is wearing out
Councillor Tony McDermott,
Leader of Halton Borough Council

Campaign group the National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) claimed it would the first time that a toll had been put on a previously free bridge in England.

"Halton will have the distinction of being the first local authority in Britain where residents and businesses have to pay a toll tax to get from one side of the area to the other," said a spokesman.

The 0.6 mile (1km) crossing would be visible from the Pennines and designers hope it will prove to be an iconic structure and symbol of the North West of England.

Drivers would pay a toll to cross the six-lane bridge at a cost yet to be determined.

Halton Borough Council has previously said the cost of a one-way crossing would be similar to using the Mersey Tunnels.

But councillor Tony McDermott, leader of Halton Borough Council, said the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge could not cope with the volume of traffic.

"The bridge is 50 years old and whatever happens that bridge is wearing out," he said.

"It's costing £3m a year to maintain, but it's not just a matter of cost.

"It wont be many years until that bridge will become impassable because it will be having top be closed down so often [for repairs]."

If the public inquiry approves the project construction would start in 2011 ahead of its opening in 2014.

The inquiry, taking place in Widnes, is expected to last six weeks.

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