The council has strongly objected to plans to increase tolls to use the bridge since they were first outlined in 2021. The proposals were put forward by Peel Ports to the Secretary of State, under a Transport and Works Act Order.
In January 2022, a cross-party motion was approved which objected to the proposals by Peel Ports to increase the bridge toll from 12p per crossing to £1.
This eight-fold increase was also objected to by both of Warrington’s MPs, Trafford Council and local residents.
However, the Secretary of State confirmed last week, Friday 6 October, to uphold the proposals to modernise the toll bridge – including a judgement that this should be funded in full by people who use the bridge by significantly increasing the toll fee.
The decision report shows that Peel Ports have been granted an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 which now permits them to:
- Increase the toll from 12p for a one-way trip up to a maximum of £1 each way.
- Ensure that users of the bridge will pay in full for the improvements to the bridge. The council argued that the costs should be split between Peel Ports as the owner of the bridge and users – this was rejected.
- Use the increased toll to put in place the installation of an automatic toll collection system, which will allow Peel Ports to collect tolls from motorist and take enforcement action against anyone who doesn’t pay. This would operate in a similar way as happens on other bridge crossings with the most prominent local example being the Mersey Gateway bridge.
- Increase the toll in future by 1% below the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
- Transfer the bridge into a separate company. This decision is despite the council raising concerns about what would happen if this company was to get into financial difficulties – with a particular concern that the company could have increased costs due to not having the financial backing of the wider Peel Ports company, which would then risk more costs being passed on to people using the bridge.
- Apply a 50% discount to some postcode areas – but not all postcode areas that the council called for. The decision states that discounted tolls would apply to WA3 6, WA13 9 and M31 4 postcodes. However, the Inspector has rejected calls from the council for WA13 0, WA3 4, WA3 5 and WA3 7 postcodes to also be included. Parts of WA3 5, which covers the Glazebrook area, are of particular concern given how reliant residents in this area are on the bridge.
Reflecting on the judgement, Cllr Hans Mundry, cabinet member for highways and transportation, said: “As a council we are dismayed that the judgement has not been ruled in our favour.
“We believe we put forward a very strong and compelling case. Objection to the toll bridge price hike is a matter that has cross-party consensus and overwhelming support from our residents and businesses, too. This decision doesn’t appear in line with the lengthy and detailed feedback the council, partners and residents put forward.
“In the order decision, the inspector acknowledged that increasing the toll would cause considerable financial pressure for people who are reliant on the bridge. It is a great shame that despite this the ultimate judgement is to proceed with plans to increase charges.
“We don’t dispute the benefits of upgrading the bridge and its approach roads, and introducing an automated tolling system. What we do dispute however is who will ultimately be paying for these improvements.
“We will carefully consider our position and next steps in light of this decision.”