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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 19:10 GMT
Bridges debate ends in stalemate
Forth road bridge
The SNP is seeking cross party support to abolish road tolls
A Holyrood debate on scrapping tolls on the Forth and Tay road bridges has ended in stalemate after the parliament failed to agree a position.

The result came after Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs from the east coast spoke against the charges.

The SNP-led debate demanded the abolition of tolls, but the transport minister warned that the move could make congestion worse.

Both the Nationalists and executive motions were defeated.

Rebel Fife MSP Scott Barrie earlier told parliament he had resigned as Labour whip to speak out against the tolls.

The Nationalists brought the debate to "end the discrimination" against the east of Scotland, putting forward a motion calling for the removal of tolls on the two road bridges.

Removing these tolls increases congestion
Tavish Scott
Transport minister

Mr Barrie, Labour MSP for Dunfermline West, said he was unable to support an executive motion seeking to link retention of tolls with the case for a new Forth crossing.

"I believe absolutely, fundamentally, tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges should be removed," he said.

He was backed by Helen Eadie, Labour MSP for Dunfermline East, and Liberal Democrat North East Fife MSP Iain Smith, who both said they supported the SNP on the issue.

The SNP call to scrap the Forth and Tay road bridge tolls was defeated by 65 votes to 58 with one abstention.

'Cynical ploy'

The executive amendment, calling for abolition of tolls to be considered as part of the case for a new crossing was also defeated - by 66 votes to 56.

The scrapping of tolls on the Skye and Erskine bridges in the west prompted SNP to claim that continuing tolls in the east has led to resentment in that part of the country.

Transport Minister Tavish Scott said that, based on interviews with employers and the public sector in Dundee, Fife and Lothians, the financial level of the tolls were not a major concern.

"Of much more concern is the issue of increasing traffic levels, increasing congestion and, of course, the separate issue of the viability of the Forth Road Bridge crossing," he told MSPs.

He went on: "Removing these tolls increases congestion, which increases emissions, which increases our impact upon the global environment. The SNP are in denial about that."

Mid Scotland and Fife SNP MSP Tricia Marwick earlier accused Labour and the Lib Dems of a "cynical ploy" in allowing Fife MSPs to vote in favour of the SNP motion.

Forth Road toll station
The Scottish Greens have called for a car sharing programme

She added: "The toll money has been used since 1995 as the cash cow to fund transport projects which should be the responsibility of government."

Tory deputy leader and Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser described the tolls as "a unique form of taxation on the people of Fife and the east of Scotland".

And Green Lothians MSP Mark Ballard argued for an alternative form of charges, where vehicles travelling at peak periods had to pay more.

SSP leader Colin Fox also spoke against the charges.

A spokesman for the National Alliance Against Tolls said: "The people of Fife and Tayside will be extremely disappointed. The tolls should have been removed many years ago.

"This vote is a clear signal that the executive is determined to hang on to both the tolls. Any promises to remove the tolls that may appear in the manifestos of those parties that voted for the toll will be worthless."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Scott Barrie announces his decision to the parliament



SEE ALSO
New Forth Road bridge proposals
03 Nov 06 |  North East/N Isles
Bridge brings in new toll system
17 Sep 06 |  Edinburgh and East
Bridge study on cable replacement
15 Aug 06 |  Edinburgh and East
Bridge tolls shake-up announced
01 Mar 06 |  Scotland

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