An MP has issued fresh calls for tolls on the new Mersey Gateway Bridge to be scrapped for people living in Cheshire West.
Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, has written to the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling calling for urgent clarification on his views about tolling plans for the multi million-pound Mersey road crossing, which links Widnes to Runcorn.
The letter was promoted when Alun Cairns, secretary of State for Wales and MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, announced at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that Mr Grayling “fully understood the significance” of abolishing tolls on the Severn Bridge in South Wales.
Only the residents of Halton will be entitled to “free” use of the bridge, in exchange for a £10 annual administration fee. People living further afield – including those from nearby Frodsham and Helsby, within Mr Amesbury's constituency – must pay a fee every time they cross.
Mr Amesbury said: “I never thought I’d agree with a Tory cabinet minister – but when it comes to the importance of abolishing tolls to local people, Alun Cairns MP is absolutely right.
“What is astonishing, however, given his continual refusal to support free travel for users of the Mersey bridges, is that we are told that Chris Grayling apparently believes it too.
“If Mr Grayling understands the importance of this policy to growing the economy in South Wales, then I am demanding to know why he doesn’t appear to believe the same applies here in North West England.”
Mr Amesbury, who has been a vocal campaigner for abolishing the tolls since he was elected in June, added: “I have written to him (Mr Grayling) demanding speedy clarification of his position and calling on him to stick to the commitment made by the Tories in 2015 – that the bridge would be free to users in Cheshire West and Chester and Warrington.
“Our area deserves the same treatment as the rest of the UK – if the case is good enough for South Wales, then it’s good enough for our area. This is yet another example of the Tory Government letting Weaver Vale residents down, while other areas of the country are given a better deal.”
In Mr Cairns' speech this week, the MP praised the government’s decision to abolish tolls on the Severn Bridge, saying it would “boost the economy of south Wales by up to £100m a year”.
Mr Cairns claimed: “No other policy will have such an immediate impact on growing the economy in south Wales and the south west of England than our decision to abolish the tolls on the Severn crossings.”
He added that he was “grateful to my cabinet colleagues, particularly Chris Grayling who understood the significance of this policy”.
He also said: “Anyone living and working in south Wales knows how important this is.”
It was announced in July that tolls across the bridges across the Severn would be abolished in 2018. Currently, ordinary cars are charged £6.70 per crossing.
The Mersey Gateway is expected to open to traffic in mid-October. Once it does, the ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge will be closed for about 12 months of major refurbishment work, but will remain open to cyclists and pedestrians.
Once it reopens to traffic, it too will operate as a tolled bridge.
See full story in the Chester Leader