Eligible Halton residents to get up to 300 free journeys per year
Halton Council has revealed that all eligible residents in Halton will receive up to 300 free journeys per year when the new Mersey Gateway Bridge and the current Silver Jubilee Bridge become tolled in 2017.
The scheme was approved at a full Council meeting by Halton Council last night (11/12/13).
Cllr Rob Polhill, Leader of Halton Council said:
“We have lobbied hard for no tolls on the new bridge and on the Silver Jubilee Bridge, but Government are clear – no tolls, no bridge – we all know a new bridge is desperately needed. We must now all accept, however painful, that tolls on Mersey Gateway and Silver Jubilee Bridge are a given and get on with the building phase without further delay and uncertainty
However, as we committed from the outset, we have spent many months looking for the best local user discount scheme we can get for Halton residents.
The discount scheme has to be affordable from within the project and comply with the legal powers in the Tolling Orders approved by the Inspector at the Planning Inquiry, and Government have also limited Halton when it comes to the amount we can spend on discounts.
However, the Mersey Gateway procurement process has delivered savings and I am pleased to report the Council has agreed to use these savings to give Halton residents a better discount scheme than we could have given under the Government’s tight financial restrictions.
I hope this demonstrates the commitment of the Council to reducing the burden of tolling on Halton’s residents.
We will continue to press the Government to maximise the re-investment of any extra toll income to ensure that Halton residents get the best deal possible.”
Under the local user discount scheme almost all residents in Halton will be eligible for up to 300 free trips per year across the River Mersey when the new Mersey Gateway Bridge opens.
The plans for the local user discount scheme were approved at a full meeting of Halton Borough Council alongside the detail of tolling plans for the two bridges.
The key details agreed as Halton Borough Council signed off the Final Business Case for the Mersey Gateway Project were:
- Eligible residents living in properties with council tax bands A-F get up to 300 free trips* per year
- Standard toll fees agreed at £2 per trip* for cars and small vans
- Sticker registered cars and small vans charged at £1.80 per trip*
- Regular users can apply for a pass giving them unlimited trips across either bridge for £90 per month* regardless of where they live
- Special free buses will connect the town centres of Widnes and Runcorn
- An economic hardship scheme set up to assist those in greatest need of additional help.
Full details and a set of frequently asked questions are available online at www.merseygateway.co.uk.
Local residents will need to register annually to qualify for the discount scheme. This will cost £10 per year per vehicle. It will cost the same amount to cross either the Mersey Gateway Bridge or the Silver Jubilee Bridge, and the free trips can be used on either route.
The free trips will be capped at 25 trips per month but unused trips can be ‘rolled on’ from one month to the next, within a 12-month period. All travel undertaken over and above the free trips allowance will be charged at the appropriate toll rate.
The 300 free trips scheme is being made possible by the tens of millions of pounds in savings being delivered by the innovative Mersey Gateway procurement process. Halton Borough Council has agreed to use its 30% share of these savings to improve the local discount scheme.
The Council considered the economic and social impact that tolls would have on local residents particularly users on low incomes. The proposed local user discount scheme was chosen as the best way to reduce the impact of tolls that can be afforded. Using existing Council Tax Bands as a condition for qualification is the fairest way and the additional funding from the savings has enabled the Council to stretch the scheme so that it covers most of the properties in Halton.
In addition the Council is intending to work up additional assistance as a safety net to protect those residents who do not qualify for the scheme but can demonstrate that they are unable to afford tolls.
To improve travel choices some of the funds from the project will be used to run a cross-river free bus service connecting Runcorn and Widnes town centres.
The centrepiece of the Mersey Gateway Project is a new six-lane toll bridge over the River Mersey. The existing Silver Jubilee Bridge will also be tolled as part of the project, which is expected to help create thousands of new jobs, secure inward investment to the area and deliver important regeneration benefits.
The legal powers given to Halton to create a local user discount scheme mean it must consider;
a) geography, i.e. be limited to Halton residents;
b) usage; i.e. minimise unnecessary journeys; and
c) socio/economic matters, i.e. focus the scheme on those who need it most
In order to meet those criteria, the council is using council tax banding to identify eligible residents. This will ensure that the discount scheme benefits those local residents most in need of the discount package. Residents who live in council tax properties in bands G and H (which make up less than 1% of properties in Halton) are excluded from the proposed discount scheme.
Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway Project Director, said: “The tens of millions of pounds we are looking to save on the project cost as part of the procurement process means the council can deliver an even better deal on discounts than we first expected. The important thing is we are able to do this whilst meeting our target of delivering tolls at an equivalent level to Mersey Tunnel toll levels.”
Preparatory work has already begun on the project in Halton, where preferred bidder Merseylink has started clearing trees and vegetation from sites along the route of the bridge and approach roads in both Runcorn and Widnes.
Halton Borough Council expects to complete a contractual arrangement with Merseylink and the Final Funding Agreement with Government in early 2014.
*All prices and promotions shown above relate to Class 2 vehicles – cars and small vans. There is no charge for crossing on a motorcycle. Initial prices for other fare classes are available here.
You can find out more about the Mersey Gateway Project at www.merseygateway.co.uk.
The Mersey Gateway Project will be one of the largest infrastructure initiatives in the UK over the coming years. Earlier this year Mersey Gateway was identified as one of the UK government’s Top 40 priority projects in the National Infrastructure Plan and it has been recognised by KPMG as one of the ‘Top 100 infrastructure projects around the globe’.
The value of the construction phase of the project, including land, is estimated at £600million. The total project costs/revenues over the next 30 years are estimated at around £2billion.