Disappointment over Mersey Gateway bridge scheme delay

Image caption,
The bridge would be 1km (0.6 miles) in length across the River Mersey

Business and transport leaders have reacted with disappointment to the government's decision to suspend the second Mersey crossing project.

The £431m Mersey Gateway bridge between Runcorn and Widnes has been put on hold during the Treasury's spending review.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it could not guarantee its £83m support for the scheme until the outcome.

Despite the setback, Tony McDermott, of the Mersey Gateway Group, said there was still a strong case for the bridge.

About £22m has already been spent on the project, which is designed to ease congestion on the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge.

MPs' support

"We are disappointed and it is frustrating but it's not unexpected that it would be like a lot of other schemes to be put in the pot to be reviewed under the comprehensive spending review," said Mr McDermott.

"If it doesn't go ahead it [the £22m] won't be wasted because much of that money was spent buying up the land and that means achieving assets.

"But nevertheless we are confident there is a case to be made... the [existing] bridge is 50 years old.

"The costs are going to be met 70% form the private sector and there's an element of road user charging which is something the government I understand want to develop."

The scheme has cross-party support across Merseyside and, despite the charging proposals, many major business backers.

Steve O'Connor, Widnes Vikings chairman and major shareholder in the Stobarts Group, said the crossing was vital.

"Stobart probably crosses that bridge around 1,500 times a day," he said.

"Even when we see short term lane closures when they do some of the repairs it can be really damaging in terms of the North West economy."

But the National Alliance Against Tolls, which has campaigned against the bridge tolls, believe the current project would not benefit the region.

Spokesman John McGoldrick said: "It was not credible that this scheme would have benefited the Merseyside and West Cheshire economy as it would have meant a toll barrier along the Mersey all the way from Liverpool and nearly as far as Warrington.

"If a new bridge is built, then to minimise the costs and maximise the benefits there should be no tolls."

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