WIRRAL Council leader Jeff Green has blasted the 10p increase in tunnel tolls calling it "a hammer blow for the borough."

The board of Merseytravel this afternoon narrowly voted to increase tunnel tolls by ten pence. The price increase will take effect this April.

The 18-strong board was split down the middle with nine in favour and nine against - the increase was forced through on the casting vote of its chairman, Sefton Labour councillor Mark Dowd.

Councillor Green said: "This is a hammer blow to people in Wirral and makes a mockery of Labour's claims to be on the side of working people.

"Labour-led Merseytravel is in denial over the economic problems facing Merseyside.

"They had a choice today whether to use some of Merseytravel's cash reserves already generated by their previous increases in tolls and they chose instead to hit drivers, families and small businesses.

"While I and the administration running Wirral are trying our best to keep costs down and protect services, it seems Merseytravel are going in the opposite direction."

The four Wirral councillors on the Merseytravel board voted against the increase.

Addressing the committee prior to voting Chris Blakeley, Conservative councillor for Moreton West & Saughall, said: "The CBI are opposed to this, the Federation of Small Businesses are opposed to this, as is the leader of Wirral Council.

"The public are equally against any increase."

Eastham Liberal Democrat councillor David Mitchell said: "With the current economic situation it would be wrong to increase the tolls.

"We need to be realistic and think about what people can afford in this day and age."

Before casting his deciding vote, Cllr Dowd said: "The people who use the tunnels must pay for them - it is impossible for the tunnels to be free.

"In my opinion, we need to put the tolls up. We are all in the mire and I'm sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, I will be backing the recommendation.

"If it means using the casting vote then I have no problem with that."