WEAVER Vale MP Mike Amesbury is calling on Mersey Gateway bosses to let people cross the new bridge for free on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

Mr Amesbury, a well-known critic of the tolls, has called for the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board to waive fees for the period – believing that many friends, family and visitors of local residents may be caught unawares and fined over Christmas.

If they are aware, says Mr Amesbury, they will be required to spend time on Christmas or Boxing Day phoning up or registering online in order to pay the charge. This also means that many staff will likely be required to be in work supporting the payment system over Christmas – as opposed to spending it at home with their own loved ones.

Mr Amesbury believes it would not only be a welcome gesture of goodwill during the festive season but also help the area avoid the significant negative publicity that would likely result from numerous travellers returning home from their Christmas break to an unwelcome fine.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mr Amesbury show that the Dartford Crossing, also operated by Mersey Bridge tolling company  Emovis, issued almost 17,000 fines from 24-26 December in the first year of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) operation, above the average of just under 4000 per day.

Mr Amesbury said: “Under current plans, thousands of Christmas visitors to our region will have to spend precious time on Christmas day on phones or computers paying tolls. I also fear that people from outside the immediate area will be using the new system for the first time when they visit friends and family, and may not be aware of the tolls – meaning an unwelcome Christmas present of a £40 fine.

“Figures from similar crossings elsewhere suggest this is a real risk – so I very much hope we can avoid doing the same here. The most simple and effective way to do this is to waive the fees for a defined period over Christmas.

“Whilst I welcome the access to the Local User Discount scheme for the majority of my constituents in Halton – that isn’t something that is available to residents in Cheshire West and Chester, despite previous pledges from the government. A Christmas suspension would benefit not just those who don’t currently have free travel, but also the friends and family of those who do. It’s a win win.”

“The Mersey Tunnels are free on Christmas day – so I refuse to believe that these problems are insurmountable. It is Christmas after all!”