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Posted by: John Brace | 12th April 2014

For Whom the Tunnel Tolls

For Whom the Tunnel Tolls

                   

Mersey Tunnel tolls have been decided annually by Merseytravel (Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority), however the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority ceased to exist at the start of this month and was replaced by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (also known by its legal name which is the Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority). The existing Merseytravel representatives from Wirral Council (along with representatives from the other Merseyside Councils) sit on the Merseytravel Committee of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority with the addition of two representatives from Halton.

Wirral Council’s Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee discussed a motion about the Mersey Tunnel tolls, which had been referred to it by the Mayor at the Wirral Council meeting of the 10th March 2014. Prior to recent changes to Wirral Council’s constitution such policy motions were discussed and voted on by a meeting of all of Wirral’s councillors (of which there are sixty-six). The Regeneration and Environment Committee has only fifteen Wirral Council councillors on it.

The motion about the Mersey Tunnel tolls was proposed by Councillor Les Rowlands (a Conservative councillor for Heswall ward whose term of office ends this year and will probably be standing soon for reelection). Councillor Les Rowlands is also one of four Wirral Council representatives on Merseytravel (the others representing Wirral Council are Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Ron Abbey and Councillor John Salter). The motion was seconded by Councillor Andrew Hodson (who is also a Conservative councillor in Heswall ward) and a copy is below.

(1) Council regrets the recent tunnel toll increases for all toll classes forced through by the Labour-led Integrated Transport Authority.

(2) Council notes that since the introduction of the 2004 Mersey Tunnels Act, sponsored by former Labour MP Claire Curtis-Thomas and supported by Labour Members throughout its passage through Parliament, Merseytravel has accrued over £40 million in surpluses which have been used on their pet transport schemes and vanity projects.

(3) Council also notes that Merseytravel have squandered large amounts of money as can be evidenced by the £70 million failed tram scheme colloquially known as ‘Line 1 to Nowhere’ and its extravagance in occupying a half empty building at No 1 Mann Island.

Therefore Council believes

(a) The consistent increases year on year is damaging Wirral’s economy putting further pressure on motorists and businesses.

(b) Council recognises such increases place a greater strain on tunnel users who have to travel to and from work placing an unfair tax burden on Wirral residents.

(c) Council recognises discount toll schemes/free crossings for local residents already exist in other parts of the country and while recognising that fast tag users benefit from a discount, Council believes that regular users should be rewarded with a local discount scheme over and above that afforded by use of the fast tag such as that announced for the Mersey Gateway Bridge of a “local user discount scheme” with up to 300 free journeys per year.

Council therefore requests the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive to write to the Chief Executive/Director General of Merseytravel requesting an urgent meeting to discuss: if and how the Mersey Tunnels can be reinstated back into the national road network and Tunnel Tolls abolished.

If that is not possible how a ‘local user discount scheme’ over and above that which already exists through the Fast Tag can be implemented to ease the burden on the hard pressed motorists of Wirral.

Video of the first twenty-five minutes of the meeting can be watched above.

The meeting started with Councillor Steve Foulkes asking for legal advice from the “Borough Solicitor” (who is Surjit Tour who wasn’t present but Colin Hughes was present to offer legal advice to committee members) on whether he should declare just a personal interest in the Mersey Tunnel tolls agenda item as a member of the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority*.

Councillor Steve Foulkes also pointed out that Councillor Les Rowlands was also a member of Merseytravel and that he “did state he [Councillor Les Rowlands] could take part in the debate”** and asked for clarification over the nature of the interest.

* The Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority had in fact ceased to exist as it had been abolished eight days previously by s.6 of The Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority Order 2014. What Councillor Steve Foulkes probably meant instead was an interest arising as he is a member of the Merseytravel Committee of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

** Whether Councillor Les Rowlands took part isn’t a decision for Councillor Steve Foulkes to make. Councillor Les Rowlands isn’t part of the Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee but as the proposer of the motion Standing Order 7(6) applies which states “A member of the Council who has moved a motion which has been referred to any committee shall be given notice of the meeting at which it is to be considered. The member shall have the right to attend the meeting and an opportunity of explaining the motion.”

Colin Hughes who forgot to turn on his microphone when replying said, “Yes, I’d declare that if I was you I’d do that.” However Colin Hughes didn’t state whether it was a personal or prejudicial interest, just that Councillor Foulkes had to declare an interest.

The Chair asked if anyone was subject to a party whip (no one replied that they were). The Chair then said the next item was “minutes of the last meeting which was held on the 10th March”.*

*The Regeneration and Environment Policy and Performance Committee hadn’t met on the 10th March, only Cabinet and a meeting of full Council met on the 10th March.

The Chair said they would change the order slightly and have the second notice of motion (on the Mersey Tunnel Tolls) first. He then said (in relation to Cllr Les Rowlands), “I think I’m right, he was here but he’s not here now but Councillor Les Rowlands doesn’t wish to speak to that.” Other councillors drew Cllr Alan Brighouse’s attention to the fact that Councillor Les Rowlands was in fact sitting on the front row with cries of “He’s here” to which Councillor Alan Brighouse replied, “He’s here is he? I can’t see him!”.

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Responses

  1. I cannot but notice John as a touch sardonic; an Ofsted inspector in a lacklustre class, perhaps sotto voce “Who are these people?”

    • In other areas of the country, their public meetings are regularly made more interesting by the public vocalising their inner thoughts, to the extent that some now have rules that the person speaking doesn’t respond to hecklers.

      Even a Wirral Council employe (many years ago when ai arranged a meeting with them criticising them over the way they were mishandling special educational needs) said once I would make a good OFSTED inspector. Thankfully some of my points must have hit a nerve as in the years after they made some overdue improvements to how they dealt with special educational needs (although how the Lyndale consultation closure has been handled hasn’t been ideal).

      However aren’t Wirral Council’s politicians (especially Labour) quite proud of all the training sessions they go on? If they are getting all this traaining at the taxpayer’s expense (in private) are they getting value for money for the taxpayer and should the taxpayers be able to observe their training sessions to see how their money is spent first hand?

  2. OMG this is the first for Wirral councillors to agree to something sensible at last long may it continue. Mind you is there an election brewing.

    • Only the Conservative councillors (five out of fifteen) voted for that motion. The other ten (Labour plus a Lib Dem plus an independent) voted for an alternative recommendation that replaced that motion and maintains the current position.

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