Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Protest over plans to raise toll

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

Villagers have protested at plans to double prices on one of the last three privately-owned toll bridges over the River Thames.

Plans for the bridge, which links Whitchurch, Oxfordshire, and Pangbourne, Berkshire, would see the charge increased from 20p to 40p.

Its owners said the bridge needs replacing for the 6,500 vehicles that use it every day at a cost of 3.2m.

Those against the scheme are calling for a public inquiry.

Protester Colin Cooper said: "The company want to double the toll and they doubled it just three years ago and local people have had enough and are calling for a public inquiry.

'Another way'

"The turnpikes and toll bridges were swept away 200 years ago and this one was left behind.

"It effectively doubles the road tax as we pay one road tax for this bridge and again for all the roads in the country and it's going up even more."

Pearl Slatter, South Oxfordshire district councillor, said: "There are 6,500 cars a day that come up and down this high street and people are going to find it difficult if the toll goes up.

"We think there are different ways of doing it which is why we want it all looked into."

Reading West MP Martin Salter also joined the protesters and handed out leaflets.

Geoff Weir, of the Whitchuch Bridge Company, said: "The cost of reconstruction has increased over the years.

'Needs replacing'

"This bridge is 106-years-old and it needs replacing.

"The latest estimates we have show it will cost 3.2m and we have got to raise the money."

He added the firm "doesn't like" to increase charges but it had little choice.

The company says it has come up with a design which will "retain the character and appearance" of the existing bridge.

A motion is going to the council next week to call for a public inquiry.

The firm's Toll Application will be decided by the Secretary of State for Transport and could be in place from July 2009.

Work to reconstruct the bridge is planned for 2013.

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