SURVEY: MPs respond to whether the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004 should be repealed

By David Bartlett on Feb 7, 13 07:19 AM in Parliament

oday transport authority Merseytravel will vote to increase the tunnel tolls by 10p.

A report recommending the increase is at pains to point out that the transport authority is obliged to do this under the terms of the Mersey Tunnels Act 2004 which sets down that tolls should keep pace with inflation.

But in the financial year 2011/12 of the £37m raised through the toll, more than £8m was returned as a surplus.

It is clear that the terms of the Act are outdated and present an unfair burden on motorists in Merseyside.

It is a particularly harsh burden for commuters who have to use the Mersey Tunnels, often at times when no practical public transport alternative is available. But it is also a significant extra expense for the many companies and public sector organisations which need to use this key road link in order to pursue their daily business, and a major deterrent to people travelling across our city region for retail and leisure purposes.

With that in mind we surveyed Merseyside MPs to ask what their view is of whether the Act should be repealed and what the long term solution should be to the toll issue.

In the first instance we asked for a yes/no answer to the question of whether they favour repealing the act, and a quote to setting out their position.

The results are part of today's report Merseytravel's less than strenuous attempt to pay off the tunnel debt, and below are the MP's answers in full.

Esther McVey, Wirral West:
Yes I would support the Act being repealed or an amendment to the Act that removes the automatic increase in 'Authorised Tolls'. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP seeking an urgent meeting to discuss how this may be taken forward, and what options may be open to remove the unhealthy power that Merseytravel wield over tunnel users.

The Tunnels Act 2004, pushed through by Labour was ill thought out. Whilst the Act gives Merseytravel a great deal of power over tolls and removes the need for them to consult with the five local authorities about any increase in tolls, I don't believe that it is in the spirit of the Act for Merseytravel to act in such an authoritarian manner.

The impact of these continual increases is hurting motorists and businesses who are already feeling the pinch, it really is about time Merseytravel stopped using the tunnels as a cash cow to fund other schemes.

Andrew Miller, Ellesmere Port and Neston:
The answer to your first question is yes!

I argued against the Act in the first place and your report vindicates my position. My constituents with jobs in Liverpool should not be "taxed" for simply going to work. If the city region concept is to work there must be a properly integrated travel system that enables people across the region to fully engage in wealth creation. The historic debt has to be paid off but further penalising commuters will have a retrograde impact.

Angela Eagle, Wallasey MP:
Yes to repealing Mersey Tunnel Act 2004

I think we need to start looking for a more flexible mechanism for tunnel tolls given the wholly unexpected squeeze on living standards now being suffered by ordinary people because of this Government's failing economic policy. Times are difficult, It may be time to start looking at a new way of approaching this."

Frank Field, Birkenhead MP:
I am in favour of freezing the tunnel tolls.

Alison McGovern, Wirral South MP:
Repealing the bill: Yes - the bill should be reviewed to see if it is still appropriate in the current climate.

Due to George Osborne's mismanagement of the economy, we are now on the verge of a triple-dip recession. Families are being squeezed, with tax credits cut, VAT increased and food prices rising. As wages have not been keeping pace with inflation, I think it is the wrong time for Merseytravel to increase the Mersey tunnel tolls and contribute to the Government's squeeze on families.

Whilst the tunnel is still the cheapest way to cross the River Mersey compared with trains, buses and the ferry, Merseytravel must look at how it can improve public transport so that it is easier and cheaper to use. Moving more people to public transport rather than using their car, and the tunnel, will be beneficial to our environment and our local economy. There are now more trains to Liverpool than ever before. But I am frustrated with the delay in implementing Oyster-style cards that would make travel by bus and rail cheaper, quicker and easier.

I urge Merseytravel to do more to promote SmartTags, which offers a discount to motorists and the convenience of not having to find change. They should be better advertised, and easier to apply for. I also hope that they would consider not applying the inflationary rise to SmartTag users, who tend to be the people who use the tunnel the most and would be hardest hit.

I will also work with others to explore the option of integrating the tunnel with the national highway network, once the tunnel's debts have been repaid.

Derek Twigg, Halton MP:
As you are aware Halton is not one of the controlling local authorities in Mersey Travel so it is difficult for me to comment. In the case of the proposed Mersey Gateway I want the Government to do more to help local people with tolls.

Maria Eagle, Gartson and Halewood MP and Shadow Transport Secretary:
The decision on the level of local transport fares and tolls should be set by the accountable elected local transport authority, not by politicians in London. In deciding on any changes I would expect the local transport authority to think very carefully about the impact of increasing fares or tolls on those already struggling with the cost of transport and get the right balance with raising the funds necessary to maintain a good local transport system on which people can rely."

In terms of your yes/no question, we will continue to consider this further as part of Labour's Policy Review (along with all other potential transport legislation) but have not proposed repealing this legislation. As you'll gather from the quote above, we would take some convincing that decisions on tolling levels should be removed from the ITA (and that right of course includes decreasing and freezing, as well as increasing, the level).

Steve Rotheram, Walton MP:
No commuter or business likes paying tunnel tolls but the consequences of scrapping the Mersey tunnel toll would have a severe impact on the transport network and would not make economic sense. At the same time, however, any plans to increase tunnel tolls should be considered very seriously against the backdrop of a potential triple-dip recession.

Tunnel tolls play their part in Merseyside benefiting from one of the best integrated transport systems outside of London. Decisions such as this should be taken at a local level by the accountable local body and not imposed from Westminster.

Stephen Twigg, West Derby MP:
I agree with the Shadow Transport's Secretary's comments on this issue. Decisions like these should be made by the Local Transport Authority with careful consideration given as to how any increases will affect those who rely on transport and who may be in financial difficulties.

Louise Ellman, Riverside MP:
This is a local matter and the decision must take into account the needs of local motorists as well as the importance of maintaining the tunnels and providing good public transport.

Luciana Berger, Wavertree MP :
The Mersey tunnels are a vital part of our transport infrastructure. While there is a cost associated with maintaining them, it's very important that decisions about how that cost is met are decided locally. I hope the transport authority takes into account the views of my constituents and ensures that any price rises are kept to a minimum.

Shaun Woodward, St Helens South MP:
This is not an issue which constituents have contacted me about. As it stands I see no compelling argument to repeal the legislation.

Dave Watts, St Helens North:
While I would be happy for the full cost of the tunnel to be passed to Government I would be very reluctant to repeal the present Act. As you will be aware past travellers, non Merseyside council tax payers, who use the tunnel have been subsidised by my constituents who never use the tunnel.

I do not believe that it would be acceptable for my constituents for them to once again be faced with the possibility that it would become more difficult for the [transport authority] to increase tunnel charges. It is my view that if the Act was repealed it would result in my constituents once again having to subsidise the capital and running cost of the tunnel.


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David Bartlett

David Bartlett

City editor of the Post and Echo covering politics, regeneration, and urban affairs.
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