CHESTER'S MP is championing the call to scrap tolls across the Mersey.

During a meeting of the Backbench Business Committee in Westminster, Labour's Chris Matheson called for a debate on the issue of tolls on the new Mersey Gateway Bridge between Runcorn and Widnes.

Previously, Mr Matheson had said people living in his constituency who work on the other side of the Mersey would “need a hefty pay rise just to stand still”.

Speaking to the committee, he said: “This issue, as I said in my application, is causing consternation in the sub-region that I represent. There are now four crossings on the River Mersey and every single one is tolled: there are two tunnels and now two bridges.

“The problem is that the first bridge, the original crossing from Runcorn to Widnes, has also been tolled now that the new Mersey crossing has opened. Essentially, that potentially adds a commuting cost of £1,000 to people who, until now, did not have to pay.

“It comes at a time when bridges in other parts of the country – the crossings across the Forth and, following the Government’s recent announcement, the Severn - are being abolished.

“So people in my area are rather bewildered and a little let down that we have to pay those charges.

“Not only is the introduction of a retrospective charge putting people’s backs up, but we are seeing the contrary in other parts of the country.

“There have been public demonstrations against the tolls as the bridge has opened, and there is a feeling we seem to be getting the wrong end of the stick, which other parts of the country do not get.”

A campaign group is calling for an end to all tolls on Mersey crossings – as it was announced that more than a million vehicles used the new Mersey Gateway Bridge in its first 16 days of opening.

The group Scrap Mersey Tolls has launched a petition calling for an end to all tolls on the Mersey.

The petition on the 38 Degrees petition website you.38degrees. is addressed to the Prime Minister, the leader of the Labour Party and the mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

Claire Glynn, from Scrap  Mersey Tolls, said: “We’re pressing all the parties to stop the discrimination where this area is treated worse than other areas of Britain, and the discrimination where some residents are treated unfavourably compared with others.

“We hope many thousands will sign the petition and show the politicians of all parties how strong the feeling is against tolls.

“We hope to see an end to tolls as has already happened in Scotland and will soon be the case in Wales.”

More than a million vehicles crossed the new Mersey Gateway  Bridge in its first 16 days of opening, with around 68 per cent of the journeys in this initial period made by vehicles registered with Merseyflow.

Tolls have been in force since the new bridge, which links Runcorn and Widnes, opened, and around 65,000 to 70,000 vehicles every weekday are using the new nine kilometre route between junction 12 of the M56 and Speke Road in Widnes.

The first penalty charge notices have been issued – but the Merseyflow team has delayed issuing them as they have been taking extra time to check initial payments as customers get used to the new tolling system.

Drivers have a choice of either registering with Merseyflow, paying for their one-off journey up to a year in advance or paying for it by 11.59pm the day after they cross.

David Parr, chief executive of Halton Borough Council and the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, said: “We’re very pleased that so many people are using the new route in its first two weeks.

“I’m particularly pleased with the feedback our team has had from a lot of people about the time it has saved on journeys.”

Peter Cook, chairman of the Halton Chamber of Commerce, added: “Last Monday morning I travelled from Chester to Liverpool at 8.30am and returned to Runcorn two hours later with no hold ups. Crossing it at 60mph was quite a new experience! 

“The project has been an amazing achievement. The bridge and infrastructure are brilliant and ensure easy flow, quick and reliable journeys for businesses and private users alike.”

More information about how to pay can be found at the website.