Plans for the £600M Mersey Gateway Bridge represent a “serious financial risk”, according to a sustainable transport charity.
The report compiled by the Campaign for Better Transport says the toll revenue for the proposed bridge would not cover the construction and operating costs.
The charity says that this, coupled with the higher costs of private finances since the initial proposal, means it represents a financial gamble.
Bosses for the Mersey Gateway project have hit back at the report, calling it “flawed” and “a deliberate attempt to undermine the project”.
The Campaign for Better Transport wants there to be an independent assessment carried out into the risks when construction companies start to enter bids to build the bridge.
Writers of the report also suggest that Halton Borough Council and the government should be prepared to abandon plans for the bridge if the risks are too high.
The bridge, which would span the Mersey between Runcorn and Widnes, is to be constructed and operated under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and paid for by a combination of tolls on the new bridge, tolls on the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge and public funds through PFI credits.
Halton Borough Council has promised to provide discounts for local users, the report says.
However, the charity claims that traffic surveys show around 90% of likely users will be from the local area, meaning toll revenue could be much lower than anticipated once the discount scheme is factored in.
“The financial implications and viability of introducing the recommended discounts for the Mersey Gateway project could be huge,|” said Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive.
“Not only could it make raising private finance for the project very difficult, it could also create huge liabilities for the local council and the Government, who may be called upon to underwrite the costs of any discount scheme.”
He added: “We need an independent review before contracts are signed and the project is finally agreed.”
Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway project director, said: “This report is fundamentally flawed and has been jointly commissioned by the Campaign for Better Transport and the North West Transport Activists Roundtable who locally are one of the few organisations opposed to the construction of Mersey Gateway.
“It is regrettable that the authors of the report did not check their assumptions with Mersey Gateway officials before drawing conclusions.”
He added: “The report at best does not add anything to the understanding of the financial risks associated with the project and at worst it is misleading and a deliberate attempt to undermine the delivery of a project that benefits from widespread support across the region and in Government.”