PLANS to increase Mersey Tunnel tolls by 10p to £1.80 were backed by councillors during a meeting of Merseytravel's Transport Committee this afternoon.

Government pressures on budgets are behind the proposed cash hike, part of a series of measures put forward by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, which also include a cheaper off-peak £1 toll for Fast tag users.

A new discount for off-peak travellers would apply between 7pm and 7am Monday to Saturday and all day Sunday.

Other ideas backed by councillors during this afternoon's meeting at Mann Island in Liverpool include continuing to provide free travel through the tunnels for emergency service vehicles and free travel for all users between 10pm on December 24 and 6am on December 26.

The recommendations will now be considered by Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, responsible for setting the tunnel tolls, at its budget meeting tomorrow.

If approved tomorrow, the new tolls would come into effect from Sunday, April 1.

The committee's Wirral Labour members – councillors Steve Foulkes, Ron Abbey and Jerry Williams voted against the toll increase today.

Councillors voted in favour of the plans.

A notice of motion from Wirral Conservative Les Rowlands, who was unable to attend as he was on holiday, called for the toll to be scrapped. This was rejected.

Prior to the meeting, Merseytravel's chief executive Frank Rogers said: "As always, it is for political members to take a decision on the tunnel toll levels.

"However, reflecting on the past year, it is encouraging to see more than half of the people using the tunnel taking advantage of the benefits that a Fast Tag can bring.

"If the proposed changes are approved, it will give those people even further increased savings when travelling, especially during off-peak times."

Last week, Mr Rotheram said: "I fully understand that no-one likes paying tolls, so I have put forward proposals designed to reduce costs for regular and local users of the Mersey Tunnels.

"By freezing the fast tag and introducing the £1 off-peak, we are striving to make cross-river travel as affordable and convenient as possible.

"Encouraging more people to travel off-peak will also help to reduce congestion and improve air quality by reducing the number of queuing vehicles.

"A review and refresh of tunnel operations is under way, which amongst other things, will look at the introduction of contactless payment and new technology.

"As part of that process I would want to look at ways in which we can make it as easy as possible for people to use the cheapest payment option."

Mr Rotheram has come under fire by opposition groups including the Mersey Tunnels Users Association.

After the meeting John McGoldrick from Scrap Mersey Tolls and the Tunnels Users Association told the Globe after today's meeting: "It’s a foregone conclusion, but we’re pleased that six councillors – three from Liverpool and three from Wirral – actually voted against the proposals to increase the toll.

“Merseytravel are suffering from some sort of mass delusion. They try to convince us that the tunnel tolls are being spent on investment.

“That may be true, but the point is they are budgeting to make a profit. They are budgeting to make a profit next year of over £12m.

“They are also deluded about finance in general. They were complaining about the Conservative Government and spending pressures. I imagine there have been spending pressures, but most of is self-inflicted.

“They are spending over £400million, an unbelievable amount, on trains. Part of that is from tolls; not a single penny is essential spending.

“All of that money could have been spent on bringing the tolls down. It is absolutely ludicrous.”