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(page written 29 April 2009, last updated 25 Jul 2014)

RUNCORN BRIDGE (aka 'SILVER JUBILEE' BRIDGE) and "MERSEY GATEWAY" BRIDGE

star   For recent news of the scheme at the MTUA website

Links to lower on this page -
Background   History pre the 2009 Inquiry   Opposition   The other "Gateway".

Links to other pages -
THE INQUIRY   News (2002 to end of Inquiry in July 2009)   Dominoes or The Bridge Game from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

Links to Campaign on other sites -
Halton Against Tolls   Halton Against Tolls - Facebook group   Residents Against The Tolls - Facebook group   Petition on 38 Degrees



Friday 25 July 2014 - WON BATTLE, BUT WAR GOES ON
The main campaign against the tolls to cross between Runcorn and Widnes was centred around the time of the Public Inquiry in 2009. After that things were very quiet and only sprang back to life a few months ago with various meetings, petitions and new groups being formed. This seems to have got through to the politicians who have pulled a rabbit out of the hat in order to stop the campaign from spreading -
Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News - "Tolls campaigners react to chancellor's announcement"
Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News - "Halton Council chiefs welcome free crossings across Mersey Gateway and Silver Jubilee bridges for residents"
Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News - "Runcorn MP says tolls announcement and Halton Curve bonanza show Government's commitment to region"
Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News - "Twigg hints at A14 'local road' swinging the issue in tolls battle "
L'pool Echo - "New Mersey bridge will be free for local residents, Chancellor announces"
Runcorn and Widnes World - "Bridge tolls to be free for Halton residents after all following Government U-turn"
Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News - "Chancellor announces free crossings for Halton residents on Mersey Gateway and Silver Jubilee bridges"
The official propaganda from the Government - "Mersey Gateway Bridge will be free to use for Halton residents, Chancellor announces

The BBC, the Government's propaganda arm, did its best to ignore the story and had nothing on its news site till the Friday night - "Mersey Gateway bridge to be free to Halton residents"

Comment from Chris Kelly who is chairman of Halton Against Tolls - "Halton Against Tolls are very pleased with George Osborne’s announcement to overturn the bridge tolls for Halton residents. It has been a worry for many whose livelihood depends on getting to and from their daily place of work and also for those families who depend on being able to use the facilities and services within their own district. Many have told us that the cost would have been catastrophic for them.

However, our concerns remain because tolls for business/commercial users will still apply whether such organisations are from inside the borough or not. Local trade and commerce we believe will be greatly affected by tolls and they will have no choice but to pass the toll costs onto the customer. Equally the implications remain for our local Halton economy due to outside deliveries, transport services etc and the price rises of goods /services in the borough generally.

We maintain that Income Tax, VAT, Council Tax, Fuel Duty and Vehicle Excise Licence Duty should be sufficient to pay for road and bridge infrastructure in this country – how much more do we have to pay? Also, that George Osborne has still not explained the disparity in his decisions to toll the Mersey Gateway/Silver Jubilee bridges and his earlier declaration to completely scrap the same tolls for the newly built A14 bypass in Tory held Cambridgeshire.

We believe that nobody should have to pay tolls and that our campaign is not over by a long chalk!"
Comment from John McGoldrick who is a spokesperson for NAAT and other anti toll groups - "The announcement by the Chancellor that people who live in Halton will not pay any tolls will be a relief to Halton residents, but it raises questions about why other drivers are expected to pay to use what is currently an untolled crossing.

I started taking an interest in the scheme for a new bridge near Runcorn in 2003. I was told ten years ago by Halton Council that the bridge would cost £200 million to build, would not be tolled and that they expected it to be open in 2008.

It gradually emerged that the Council and the Government were in fact planning that the bridge would be tolled and that to cap that they were also going to toll the existing 'Silver Jubilee' bridge between Runcorn and Widnes. Their plan was that with two bridges there would be LESS traffic crossing the Mersey than there is crossing now with just the 'Silver Jubilee' bridge. When it became public that there would be less traffic, they said that this was being 'green'.

The Government have been so keen to erect a tolls barrier along the Mersey from Liverpool to the outskirts of Warrington, that they have given or promised many hundreds of millions of pounds to Halton Council and to the bankers. Even before today's' announcement of more Government money, they were already committed to spending a lot more money than if they had paid for the bridge that was nearly ready to be built ten years ago.

You would have expected users of the existing untolled bridge to be up in arms over the plan to toll it. But at the time of the Public Inquiry in Widnes in 2009, there was a hardly a murmur about the tolls apart from the opposition coming from the National Alliance Against Tolls and the Mersey Tunnels Users Association. The situation changed dramatically recently with lots of people in Halton protesting against the tolls. This protest has been strong and growing and has presumably put the wind up the alliance of Labour and Tories who want to create a Mersey tolls barrier. So now they have said that the area where most people have complained - Halton - won't pay tolls. Well how about the businesses - in Halton and elsewhere - who will be badly affected by tolls? And how about those people who currently use the Silver Jubilee bridge and don't live in Halton? And how about the people who use the Mersey Tunnels, where we have had to pay tolls since 1933?"

Video from Dan Atherton - "Halton toll free bridge"

NOTE THAT WHAT FOLLOWS ON THIS AND RELATED PAGES WAS WRITTEN BEFORE THE ANNOUNCEMENT ON 25 JULY 2014

Background

An economic and social disaster is about to hit the area just upriver from Liverpool, but most people and businesses seem to have been unaware of it until after Halton Council signed contracts in xxx 2014.

Congestion has been a problem crossing the Mersey at Runcorn since the 1990s, and there have been various proposals for another crossing in the area. The local Council (Halton Borough) gradually developed plans which includes a new six lane bridge.

Great, you might think, but there are a series of catches -
  • The bridge is to be tolled - at the level of the nearby Mersey Tunnels which is the third most expensive crossing in Britain.
    It could have been even higher as they applied for - and the then Labour Gocernmet agreed - tolls of up to five pounds per car for a return journey. The toll for lorries could have been up to twenty pounds for a return journey. The actual tolls will be below this possible level because the Colaition Government is giving hundreds of millions of pounds to make sure that the tolls plan goes ahead.

  • The tolls are also to be charged on the existing Runcorn bridge. This will be the first time anywhere that a toll is put on a previously free highway.

  • Halton will also be able to claim another first, as it will be only town in Britain where you have to pay a toll tax to move from one side to the other.

  • Most of the traffic is to be routed through the middle of the residential area down the Central Expressway.

  • There will be less traffic crossing the river when there are two bridges than there is currently with one!!

  • The bridge is to be "privately" financed at great expensive, but they are keeping it all secret.
  • The Council have for some time had a "Mersey Gateway" site devoted to their plans . The name for the new bridge used by the Council is odd when the bridge is many miles upriver and there is already a road bridge and a rail bridge and road and rail tunnels which are nearer the mouth of the river. But there is a local tradition of reminding the serfs that they are there only to pay their tolls, so perhaps by the time it is built and opened, the bridge will be named the "King Charles Way"!!

    The authorities have so far managed not to let people know how much they will be paying over the initial 30 years (the period of the private finance contract), but from the limited information available we have calculated that if there is no inflation over thirty years, then the tolls would add up to over 1.6 billion pounds, and with 3 per cent inflation the tolls over 30 years would be over 3 billion pounds!!. Part of this loot might be going to the Government as VAT.
    Council figures over 15 years only and without inflation   Our figures.

    You might expect that there would be rioting on the streets. But there has been little reaction from local people or local businesses or bridge users or the councillors and MPs over a wide area whose constituents will be affected by all this.

    The reason it has been quiet is that the Council, the Government and their allies have been very clever at promoting their plans with pretty pictures of a new bridge and burying the facts as much as they can. Those behind all this have been helped by those parts of the news media who just regurgitate whatever propaganda is handed out by the authorities and turn a largely deaf ear to any protestors.
    There have however been enough objections that the Government was forced into holding a joint Inquiry into the many Orders that are needed (for tolling, compulsory purchase of land, closure of roads, alterations to the existing bridge, etc.)

    On Sunday, 17 October 2010, the Chancellor told the BBC that the scheme would not be axed in the Spending Review. It is assumed that this means that it will go ahead, though the report of the long Public Inquiry in the summer of 2009 has still not been announced - Click Liverpool - "Runcorn toll bridge 'will go ahead' says Chancellor"   BBC - "Mersey £431m bridge plan escapes spending review cuts".

    This was our reaction to the news media, though the authorities seem to have a grip on most of the media, so this may be the only place that you see it -
    "No doubt a lot of people will be pleased that this new bridge is going ahead. But nearly all of them will be in the dark as to what is involved. As no one would otherwise use the new bridge, the existing bridge is to also be tolled. The result is that the official forecast is that there will be less traffic crossing the river than now, and all of that will have to pay a toll that they don't have to pay now."

    "Supporters of the scheme say that this will be a boost to the economy. On the contrary, the scheme will be a barrier that will damage the economy. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there will be years of disruption for residents and drivers during the construction of the bridge, and when it is finished most of the traffic is to be routed through the middle of Runcorn, which has many residents worried."

    "This scheme should have been the first to be cut, and the Coalition have made a very big mistake by throwing public money into such a terrible project."
    2010 General Election - views of candidates

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    History

  • The existing bridge at Runcorn was built between 1958 and 1961. When it opened in 1961 the bridge had the third longest steel arch span in the world and the longest vehicular span in the country. The bridge was converted in the 1970s from two lanes to four lanes, partly by moving the walkway to outside the main structure.
    The bridge cost just under £3 million (£2.7 million) to build. This was funded by means of a 75% Ministry of Transport grant with the remaining 25% being met mainly by Cheshire & Lancashire County Councils. Cheshire were responsible for maintenance of the bridge till 1998, when Halton Borough Council took over.

  • From various sources it seems that the Council and the Government had been planning to toll the existing and new bridges since at least 2001, but this was a secret. In July 2003 following many years of discussions and planning for a new crossing, the Council submitted to the Government a scheme for a bridge that was said to cost £209 million. As far as is known there were to be no tolls.
    By October 2003 the reported cost in the news papers had somehow shot up to £350 million **, but there was still nothing about it being tolled.

    ** We asked the Council about this in January 2004 and were told that the estimated cost was £202 million, but that "the DfT require an "optimism bias" to be added to this (to allow for the fact that most construction projects run over budget). For this project the optimisim bias is 66% bringing the cost estimate up to £335 million."

  • On 19 December 2003 The Government announced its "decision". They neither approved nor rejected the scheme, instead they invented a new category - "super work in progress" and they called for further "studies" before they made a decision. There was no mention of tolls in the news reports. But on 16 February 2004 in answer to some questions from us the Council said that "the DfT have now asked Halton to carry out a study into the feasibility of tolling the new crossing " and on 20 February the Liverpool Echo revealed to its readers that "The proposed new £335m Mersey crossing could be tolled." and that the Council was already in discussions with the Mersey Tunnels. The Council Leader said that they still wanted no tolls, but that even if there were tolls on the new bridge then "We think there are ways that the old bridge could be free-to-use".

  • On 30 November 2004 all changed, the Council issued a press release saying that "The authority is recommending a bridge with tolls". There was no mention of tolls on the existing bridge, though some news reports did say that there would be tolls on the existing bridge and that it would be reduced to two lanes. A decision on the scheme was expected by the beginning of April 2005, but nothing happened. It was nearly a year later, on 28 March 2006, that a decision was announced by the Government. A new tolled bridge scheme would enter the "programme". The press almost ignored the tolls on the new bridge and did not tell their readers that the old bridge would be tolled as well.

  • Apart from the occassional hype in the press, everything then seemed to go into hibernation for two years, possibly while the Council prepared a mountain of paper.

  • Then in May 2008 the Council issued the statutory notices for the Tolling Orders and in December 2008 they issued the Order for the tolling of the existing bridge, though they claimed that they would not do anything to implement it till the new bridge was agreed. For more about the official onbjections and the Inquiry, you can jump to The Inquiry section.

    Links:-   Wikipedia - "Silver Jubilee Bridge"   E. Chambré Hardman Archive - "Bridges between Runcorn and Widnes"   Halebank - "Widnes Runcorn Bridge Traffic Cameras"   Wikimapia - "Runcorn Widnes Bridge".

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    Opposition

    We made a request and were told that there were these official responses to their plans-
    TWA Application - 127 objections out of a total of 147 representations.
    Compulsory purchase orders for the Central Expressway works - four statutory objections.
    Road User Charging Order - seven objectors had contacted the DfT by the deadline of 17 March 2009.
    Planning applications - 357 objections out of a total of 388 representations.
    Though there were up to 500 objections, there were only 2 individuals and 28 organisations who then submitted a "statement of case" for the Inquiry by the deadline.
    Many of those were concerned about either the compulsory purchase orders or the traffic effects. Only 13 of the 30 included any significant concern about tolls. Most of the 30 are now not taking part in the Inquiry and it is assumed that they have withdrawn their objections.

    There were six individuals and six organisations ** , that submitted "proofs of evidence" for the Inquiry as objectors, though not all of them appeared as witnesses. ** "The Alliance" (Friends of the Earth /Transport Round Table), Great Sankey Parish Council, Halton Business Group Against Tolls, National Alliance Against Tolls, Sutton Parish Council and Warrington Road Residents' Association.

    Of these twelve, the main ones who are opposed to the tolls are Halton Business Group Against Tolls (Their submission to the Inquiry), Great Sankey Parish Council, two individuals and ourselves. There is another individual who is concerned that the tolls might be high, and some slight concern about the effect of tolls in the proofs submitted by Sutton Parish Council and "The Alliance".

    There are also three "supporters" who submitted proofs of evidence and appeared as witnesses - Cheshire West & Chester Council who abandoned previous objections to the tolling of the existing bridge, Derek Twigg MP and Peel Holdings. , so we can't be sure what their views on tolls are. Mike Hall MP is also supposed to be submitting a proof of evidence as a supporter.

    One of the few groups that are protesting against the plans and have had various meetings and a demonstration at the Inquiry is Warrington Road Residents Association (who are allied to other residents groups) and who have set up a website including a discussion forum at - MERSEY CROSSING (ROAD TO RUIN). This group are primarily concerned about the impact of increased traffic on the Central Expressway which goes through the middle of the town.

    The Residents Group had a meeting on 8th April (our short note). There was another meeting at the end of April. And one on the 20th May, with about forty people who were mainly concerned about how the Council's plans will push the traffic through the centre of the residential area, but they also want to know why they have to pay tolls - particularly on the existing bridge. A councillor who was present said that there is no alternative, but that there would be some unknown discounts for "locals". He also said that this discount would apply to the old bridge only. There was another meeting on the 27th May.

    There are also three Facebook groups -
    Started by Chris Kelly with 1,200 members - "Say no to the Runcorn - Widnes Bridge crossing tolls".
    Started by Andrew Lopez with 700 members - "SAY NO TO RUNCORN BRIDGE TOLLS!!!!".
    Started by Cathy Kingsley and David Wignell with 100 members - "Say NO to the Mersey Gateway".

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    The other "Gateway"

    Down south, at Greenwich, there was a similar tolled bridge scheme, which was also bizarrely named "Thames Gateway" even though there were already bridges up and down river. The scheme was sponsored by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. As at Halton there was a Public Inquiry . A major difference was that there was far more opposition down South and the Public Inquiry lasted nearly a year - 7th June 2005 to 3rd May 2006. The decision was not announced till 26th July 2007. The Inspector recommended that the scheme be rejected. The Minister was John Prescott who instead decided to reopen the Inquiry!! BBC - "Review ordered into Thames bridge". Before this was arranged, London elected a new Mayor with effect from 4th May 2008 - Boris Johnson replaced Ken Livingstone, and on 6th November 2008 it was announced that London was abandoning the scheme.

    The Thames and Mersey schemes are similar in their quoted cost (£600 million) and that they were both to be tolled. A major difference is that the Thames bridge did not mean putting a toll on a free crossing!! Another major difference was that the Greater London Council gave the objectors over £50,000 to help fund their case at the Inquiry - even though they were opposing the Council.

    Links:-   Wikipedia - "Thames Gateway Bridge"   The official Inquiry website.

    Please contact us if you can help to fight the plan to have a toll for crossing the river between Widnes and Runcorn or if have any suggestions, questions or comments.   Email:   click here   Phone:   0151 678 5706 or 0774 269 5699.

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