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Mersey Gateway bridge public inquiry set to get underway

Plans for a £431M crossing of the river Mersey near Runcorn are set to move forward tomorrow with the start of a six week public inquiry into the scheme.

Leader of Halton Borough Council Tony McDermott has described the plans for the new £431M Mersey Gateway as the most important project of his career.

McDermott has submitted his views to the Mersey Gateway public inquiry, and said he believed the transport project was vital for the social and economic future of the region.

The inquiry, led by Inspector Alan Gray, will get underway tomorrow (Tuesday May 19) at the Stobart Stadium, Halton, and is expected to last about six weeks.

After hearing evidence from Halton Borough Council, the Mersey Gateway project team and objectors, the inspector will then make a recommendation to the Secretary of State as to  whether the proposal should or should not go ahead.

“During my 11 years as leader, this has been the most important, most difficult and, yet, the most exciting project I have been involved with,” said McDermott in his submission.

“The proposals before the inquiry are supported by extensive investigation and assessment of alternatives, exploring different routes for the new crossing and also looking into public transport and travel demand as solutions to the acute failure of the Silver Jubilee Bridge.

“I feel confident that we have developed the best solution, which is economic, it fits the environment and it is deliverable within the funding terms we have agreed with Government.”

Government has given its backing to the Mersey Gateway project, of which the centrepiece is a new tolled bridge over the River Mersey, between the Central Expressway in Runcorn and Eastern Bypass in Widnes. The existing Silver Jubilee Bridge, which will also be tolled, will be remodelled as a local bridge as part of the scheme.

The new bridge will provide a much-needed second crossing over the River Mersey, and will provide a major new strategic transport route linking the Liverpool city-region and the north west to the rest of the country.

As well as this, the project has the potential to kick-start regeneration in the borough. Research, carried out by the project team, shows the proposed new bridge and associated regeneration activity will help to bring a number of major benefits to the region.

The Wider Economic Impact Report (WEIR) published by the team predicts that the project will create:

  • 4,640 permanent new jobs as a result of the operation of the Mersey Gateway, regeneration activity and inward investment
  • 470 ten-year equivalent temporary jobs generated in the north west region through the construction of the Mersey Gateway. There may be up to 500 people employed at the peak of construction

The predictions in the other research documents include:

  • Some local journey times reduced by up to almost 40% in peak periods by 2030
  • 85% less daily traffic using the Silver Jubilee Bridge in 2015
  • major improvements to public transport and walking and cycling facilities
  • environmental benefits from less congestion, resulting in lower carbon emissions.

The project will be joint-funded by central Government and the private sector, through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI), with about 77% coming from private backers.

The funding agreement with Government means that both the new bridge and the Silver Jubilee Bridge must be subject to tolls to enable the private sector to pay off the PFI debt, and also to help control future traffic growth in the years ahead.

McDermott expects the tolls will be similar to those operated at the Mersey Tunnels.

Leading the team to deliver is Project Director Steve Nicholson: “For some time now we have been stressing that this project is about much more than just a bridge. It has the potential to help regenerate the area, bringing hundreds of new jobs and opportunities for businesses in the north west. In Halton, the project will benefit the urban environment massively.

“We know tolling is controversial, but we are working hard with the Government to minimise adverse impact on local and regular bridge-users. I believe strongly that the local community recognises that the users of the new bridge will need to contribute towards its cost if we are to deliver this much-needed infrastructure that will serve Halton and the sub-region for many years to come.”

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