CAMPAIGNERS have blasted a report which controversially says Mersey tunnel tolls should be used to pay towards Liverpool’s high speed rail link.
Independent think tank ResPublica says HS2 for Liverpool is essential if chancellor George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse plan is to succeed and Liverpool is not to be left behind.
Mersey Tunnel Users’ Association say it would be "taking tunnel users for a ride."
ResPublica’s report ‘Ticket to Ride: How high speed rail for Liverpool can realise the Northern Powerhouse’ was published earlier today.
The think tank suggests the Liverpool city region should pay £2bn of the estimated £3bn cost of the link through increased tax revenues and borrowing against future tunnel tolls.
Their proposal says after operating costs and debt repayments are excluded the tunnels make a "surplus revenue" of between £12m and £14m a year.
Their review says: "the revenue raised from tolls collected from the use of the Kingsway and Queensway tunnels under the River Mersey could make a further contribution to the Liverpool City Region’s payback offer.”
But John McGoldrick, chairman of Mersey Tunnel Users’ Association, said: "We will do our best to see that the tolls issue and the pre-election promises are not forgotten and that users of the tunnels are not the ones being taken for a ride.
“The Liverpool city region agreed a year ago that they would talk to the Government about the tolls as part of the devolution negotiations.
“The devolution deal was signed at the end of last year and nothing had been agreed about tolls except that the Department for Transport will continue to work with the region in the review of tolls.
“With the publication of the ‘Ticket to Ride’ report it is now totally clear that they plan to continue the profit-taking by Merseytravel and there will not be the big reduction in tolls that we had hoped for."
Wirral Council leader Cllr Phil Davies said: “When the Government is spending £15billion on another Cross Rail project, it should show the same commitment to the North and pay for the East West rail link from Liverpool to Hull via the HS2.
"The Chancellor and his Tory supporters should be as committed to improving the economy in Wirral and Merseyside as they are Westminster and London - and if they genuinely believe in the Northern Powerhouse should fund this project.
“The idea of using the surplus from the tunnel tolls is not an idea I support – the financing of the tunnels on a never-ending debt is the cause of many of the problems we already face with cross-river travel.
"I’d rather see the tunnel money used to bring down the tolls in the future.”
Wallasey MP and shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: “This report rightly highlights the strong economic performance of the North West in recent years, and its potential for further growth in the future.
"But without a connection into the high speed rail network this growth will be cut off.
“The resources of the North West have long been under-appreciated, but its assets such as the Port of Liverpool are of national economic significance.
“The port’s freight potential, and the dynamic business community in Liverpool, mean that businesses around the country will benefit from connecting Liverpool into the high speed rail network, and this report makes a powerful and incisive case for that investment.”
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson told the Liverpool Echo: "Our funding plan would make up the bulk of the price with £2bn coming from keeping hold of locally-raised taxes, rather than sending them to the Treasury.
“Using this mechanism would allow both ourselves and the wider economy to move closer to prosperity.”
North West Ukip MEP Paul Nuttall said: "Joe Anderson - the biggest spender of other people's money in Merseyside.
"It's a disastrous plan and 'HS2' is already a white elephant of an idea that's going nowhere.
"Tunnel users - most of whom are from Wirral - are already unfairly taxed and expecting them to pay further for a scheme they may well never use is outrageous."