Mersey Gateway Consultation Results Revealed
The Mersey Gateway project is to give local people priority on discounts for crossing the River Mersey between Runcorn and Widnes when tolls come in to force in 2014.
The project team is this week issuing leaflets to all households and businesses across the borough to outline how it is responding to this summer’s consultation programme.
The consultation highlighted four key areas where the project team is taking action to ensure that the issues raised are reflected as far as possible in the Mersey Gateway planning application. This will be submitted in early 2008, and is the next stage in the process which should lead to construction starting in 2011 and the new bridge opening to traffic in 2014.
These four issues are:
Tolling – The project team is now committed to the principle of prioritising discounts for local people. Although it is not practical to confirm exactly what toll levels will be until 2010 or 2011, the funding agreement with the government includes a significant sum to subsidise toll revenue, which will help to keep toll charges down.
Other options such as discounts for regular users or off-peak use have not been ruled out.
Central Expressway – Studies predict that traffic levels along the Central Expressway will increase as traffic is diverted along it to access the new bridge. The project team has asked its engineering consultants, Gifford, to look at how measures like noise barriers and landscaping could be used to reduce the effects of this increased traffic. This study will be complete in early 2008 and details of any new measures will be included in the Mersey Gateway planning application.
Possible new M56 junction – The project plan highlights the possibility for a new junction 11A on the M56 near Preston Brook, allowing M56 traffic easy access to the new bridge and improved road network. The project team is currently discussing this option with the Highways Agency, and a further announcement will be made by the end of 2007. Anyone who expressed an interest in this area will get an opportunity to make their views known during future discussions.
Impact on businesses along the route – although the Mersey Gateway route doesn’t directly affect any occupied homes, it does affect a number of business premises in South Widnes and at Astmoor in Runcorn. The project team is now fast-tracking its planned approach for working with local businesses. The first step will be to write to all affected land owners to ask how they would like the land purchase programme to be taken forward. This will ensure that local businesses get the time they need to plan for their future in Halton.
Councillor Tony McDermott, Leader of Halton Borough Council and Chair of the Mersey Gateway Executive Board said: “I’d like to thank everyone who responded to the consultation and am delighted to say that local people will have the priority when it comes to tolling discounts.
We know that some people are concerned about tolls, but most people understand tolling is the only way we can deliver the Mersey Gateway.”
David Parr, Chief Executive of Halton Borough Council, said: “As a result of the consultation we are fast-tracking our advance purchase plans so that local businesses know how the Mersey Gateway will affect their company, and what their options are.
This will allow us to work closely with the business community to arrange relocations and, where necessary, purchase land in advance.”
Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway Project Director, said: “We know that tolling is an issue that causes concerns, but nearly half of the 90,000 vehicles crossing the Silver Jubilee Bridge every day travel through Halton without stopping.
Tolling is the fairest way of ensuring that these drivers, who will use and benefit from the new bridge as it will make their journey faster and more reliable, contribute towards its cost.”
The consultation programme ran from 18th June to 21st September. Leaflets and questionnaires were delivered to every household and business in Halton and to a wide range of MPs, local authorities, regional organisations and other bodies across the north west. Over 3,500 responses were received with more than 1,500 people visiting dedicated exhibitions across Halton. People could give their views in a number of ways including in person, by post, by phone, online and by text message.
The Mersey Gateway consultation asked specifically for views on where the priority for discounts should be focused and how the Silver Jubilee Bridge should best be redeveloped for the maximum benefit of local people. It also invited comments from local people and stakeholders in Halton and across the north west on other aspects of the project.