CAMPAIGNERS against Mersey Tunnel tolls have questioned the “grossly unfair” decision to allow residents in nearby Halton to cross the new Mersey Gateway bridge – or the current Silver Jubilee bridge – while Wirral residents still face being “ripped off” on a daily basis.
Motorists from Runcorn and Widnes had been due to pay a rate of £1.80 each way to cross either bridge but on Friday, Chancellor George Osborne responded to calls from critics to scrap the fee.
He said he did not think it would be fair for residents to have to pay cross their “existing local road” but while those in Halton will be able to use their crossing for free, those in Wirral will still be faced with Mersey Tunnel tolls.
John McGoldrick, secretary of the Mersey Tunnel Users Association, told the Globe that although extending the scheme to Wirral would be good, it would still be unfair.
He said: “The tunnels are local roads for a lot of the people who use them. I think we are being ripped off and I think the politicians on Merseyside and particularly on the Wirral have let the people of Wirral down.
“Our view is that all tolls are a rip off and should be scrapped. It’s the drivers paying about a billion pounds a week in taxes and it’s not right for there to be any tolls.
“Obviously the people in Halton felt particularly aggrieved because they were used to not paying any tolls but the situation now is that the Government has put nearly £500m into this bridge so people who live in Halton can cross the new and old bridge for free.”
He added: “Not far away on the Wirral, people are still going to have to pay tolls to cross what is the third most expensive toll crossing in Britain.
“It is obviously grossly unfair and it begs the question as to why the Government is putting £500m into the new bridge when they haven’t put in a single penny since the Birkenhead tunnel was built over 80 years ago.”
Mr McGoldrick claims councils on Merseyside view the tunnel toll as a “cash cow” but told the Globe those who use the tunnel are “apathetic” towards them.
He said: “It would appear most people on the Wirral, almost all of them seem to be quite happy to be ripped off.”
In April, less than two dozen people turned out to support MTUA’s demonstration against the 10p rise in tunnel charges introduced earlier this year.
On Friday, Mr Osborne said: “It’s quite right that local people get the biggest discount we can afford.
“A key part of our long term economic plan is reversing the decades of under-investment in this country’s infrastructure; but to do so in a way that is fair to taxpayers, consumers and local residents.”
Mr McGoldrick said scrapping the tolls would lead to less congestion at the booths, but Green Party member Cllr Pat Cleary told the Globe that it would have the opposite effect.
He said: “Without tolls, congestion across the area would increase dramatically. Added congestion would further erode air quality which, in the area I represent - Birkenhead & Tranmere - is already among the poorest in the country.
“The borough’s director of public health said in April that ‘cutting vehicle emissions will be central to improving air quality in the borough’. Simply put, people are dying prematurely due to poor air quality.
"Naturally, this disproportionately affects residents in our less affluent areas. Abolishing/reducing tolls will make this problem worse.”
Cllr Cleary - who claims Wirral would lose an estimated £80m in retail spending if the tolls were scrapped - added: “Without tolls, increased usage could lead to severe congestion and impact negatively on cross river, public transport routes. Public transport fares, already too high, would almost certainly increase.
“It is not possible to walk across the Mersey. Nor is it possible to cycle across. If tolls were abolished we would be in the unjust situation where motorists could travel for free but pedestrians and cyclists would still be forced to pay.
“Tunnels are major infrastructure with particular and significant operating costs. It is right that those who use the tunnels pay for their upkeep.”
Do you think discounts should be offered to Wirral residents who use the Mersey Tunnel? Or do you think the tunnel tolls should be scrapped completely? Have your say below or email firstname.lastname@example.org