MTUA accuse politicians of ‘U-turn’ on Mersey Tunnel tolls promises
For those not from Merseyside and reading this in far-flung lands, I had better first explain what the Mersey Tunnels are. Anyone local to Merseyside reading this can skip the next paragraph.
Liverpool is separated from the peninsula of the Wirral by the River Mersey and beneath the River Mersey are two road tunnels and a railway tunnel (the railway tunnel that opened in 1886 is not the focus of this article). One road tunnel connects Liverpool to the town of Birkenhead (called the Queensway Tunnel) and the other with the town of Wallasey (called the Kingsway Tunnel). The Birkenhead Tunnel opened in 1934 and the Wallasey Tunnel in 1971. Both road tunnels are tolled with the current cash toll for cars being £1.70 (different rates apply for those who pay by Fast Tag or different sizes of vehicles).
The issue of the tunnel tolls has been a long running political issue locally and each year the tunnel tolls are set by local politicians. For years the local transport body called Merseytravel (which was then eighteen councillors from the various parts of Merseyside) decided on the Mersey Tunnel tolls. As the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) was created in April 2014, it meant that this year the tolls decision was made by the LCRCA (on a recommendation from the Merseytravel Committee).
The LCRCA comprises the elected leaders of each Council on Merseyside, the elected Mayor of Liverpool, the Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Leader of Halton. The Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (as detailed in the LCRCA’s constitution) doesn’t have a vote when the Mersey Tunnel tolls are set and the Leader of Halton abstained in the vote this year because Halton’s not part of Merseyside.
Earlier this year, in the lead up to the 2015 General Election (to elect MPs) and 2015 local elections (to elect local councillors) politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties made soothing noises to the public about the issue of tunnel tolls.
Once the running costs of the tunnels and debt repayments are paid out of the money received through tolls, there is now a surplus of around £16 million. The generally accepted position is that legislation, in this case the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004 means that any surplus tolls are only spent on transport projects that are in the Local Transport Plan.
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Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting of the 13th February 2015 which should start at agenda item 7 (2015/16 Mersey Tunnel Tolls which starts at 1h 3m 4s)
However returning to February 2015 (see video of that meeting above which should start at the right point) politicians on the LCRCA agreed to a freeze in toll charges.
The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, seconded by the Chair of the LCRCA Cllr Phil Davies moved the following motion (agreed at February’s meeting of the LCRCA as you can read in the minutes):
- The Chair of the CA to set up a task group to consider options open to the CA to reduce costs of tunnel tolls and its impact on infrastructure and transportation;
- The Head of Paid Service of the CA to produce a report for discussion to inform the setting of tunnel tolls for 2016/17;
- The CA to press for a review of the Mersey Tunnel Act in any on-going devolution negotiations.
The Mersey Tunnel Users Association feels that the recently approved devolution asks of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority as reported earlier this month on this blog, which include asking the government for a legislation change so that surplus tolls can be spent on "wider broader infrastructure and economic development and transport infrastructure across the city region" is a U-turn on what politicians’ position was before the election.
John McGoldrick, secretary for the Mersey Tunnel Users Association (MTUA) stated,
The Conservative party also made promises about reducing or abolishing tolls. It is not yet clear what the Government is going to do and whether they will honour what the Chancellor and others said before the May elections. We urge all drivers and businesses to raise this issue with their MP and local councillors."
The motion to the special meeting of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority meeting that met on the 2nd September and approved the devolution asks of government made it clear that before any devolution deal offered by the government was approved, that the constituent councils would have to agree and there would have to be consultation.
Each of the constituent councils in the LCRCA are Labour controlled and those that make these decisions on this matter on the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority are all Labour politicians.
It remains to be seen what the Conservative government’s response will be to the request for greater flexibility on what surplus tunnel tolls can be spent on.
However the MTUA is also against the spending of tunnel tolls on transport projects. John McGoldrick of the MTUA added "Obviously the MTUA aim is no tolls, but as a minimum we want a stop to the use of tolls for non Tunnels purposes."
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