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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 13:37 GMT
Bridge tolls raised in parliament
Forth Road Bridge
A review of the bridge's future operations is under way
The confusion surrounding tolls on the Forth Road Bridge has spilled over into the Scottish Parliament.

First Minister Jack McConnell again insisted that no decision had been taken on a price increase proposal.

The statement came despite Chancellor Gordon Brown saying earlier that there would be no toll rise.

Bridge operators want to increase charges from 1 for cars to a maximum charge of 4 for single occupancy vehicles at peak times.

Mr McConnell was quizzed on the confusion by the SNP's Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions (FMQs).

She accused Mr Brown of spin and added that she believed he was trying to deceive the electorate in Dunfermline and West Fife.

A by-election is due to be held in the constituency on 9 February following the death of serving MP Rachel Squire.

'Unresolved issues'

Mr Brown released a statement welcoming the decision "to abandon these increases".

A source close to the chancellor, whose Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency is close to the bridge, confirmed that it was his clear understanding the increases would not go ahead.

Speaking at FMQs, Ms Sturgeon said: "Did Gordon Brown have the wrong end of the stick - or was he deliberately trying to mislead the public?"

Earlier, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said: "Gordon Brown is so out of touch with the people back home that he's now the only person in Fife who believes that the Forth Bridge tolls are not going to be raised.

"Perhaps it's because his chauffeur pays the toll that the chancellor has forgotten what it's like for the people in Fife."

Gordon Brown
I welcome the decision to abandon these increases
Chancellor Gordon Brown

However Mr McConnell told MSPs no decision has yet been made.

He said: "Like the people of Fife, I think it would be hard to find any justification on economic grounds for the 400% proposed increase in tolls.

"But we have a due process to go through, there are many unresolved issues, and we will do that properly."

John McGoldrick, of the National Alliance Against Tolls Scotland, called on the chancellor to sign a petition calling for an end to tolls in Scotland.

He said: "In 1985, Gordon Brown was a witness at an inquiry into the Forth bridge tolls. He said then that the tolls were unfair as tolling meant that users effectively paid several times over.

"He also pointed out that tolls hurt the Fife economy. Will he now join us in calling for the tolls to be removed completely?"

Bridge condition

The Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) agreed in November to ask ministers to bring in a range of new tolling options, including the peak hours rise, although discounts would apply to cars with several occupants.

The authority also agreed to call in expert advisers for engineering studies, after reports warned that if main cable corrosion was not addressed, the bridge would have to close to heavy vehicles from 2013 and to all traffic by 2019.

An executive spokesman said: "Cabinet decided it was not prepared to take a decision on increasing Forth Road Bridge tolls in advance of and in isolation from decisions about the future of the bridge.

"Despite the requests from Feta to make a decision on this, ministers believe it would make no sense to take the decision before they consider the related issue about the condition of the bridge and the possible replacement crossing."

Transport Minister Tavish Scott is due to receive a report on the bridge's condition at the end of January, with the executive expected to comment in late February or March.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch what MSPs said over the toll rises



SEE ALSO:
'Build new Forth bridge' campaign
16 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Bridge board backs 4 toll plan
25 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Forth Road Bridge closure warning
17 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Capacity concern over road bridge
02 Sep 05 |  Scotland
New Forth crossing given go-ahead
15 Jun 05 |  Scotland


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