Bridge toll increase would hit local economy, say business chiefs

BUSINESS leaders have formally objected to moves to increase tolls on one of the country's most expensive river crossings.

Another 30p could be added to the cost of driving over the Humber Bridge, bringing it to 6 for crossing both ways.

Companies in Hull are being urged to make their views known ahead of the January 5 deadline. Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce said it was "one Christmas present business could do without" as the last thing they needed was another increase in their costs.

The chamber wants the inquiry to be delayed until the result of a Treasury review is known.

Richard Kendall, head of policy and communications at the chamber, said it was important business showed the strength of feeling on the issue: "The economic success of this area and the contribution it can make to UK Plc should come before a short term increase in debt repayments.

"All of the evidence we have seen to date shows that our economy would grow faster without them. There would be little point in one part of Government approving an increase if another part is about to recommend the opposite."

A spokesman for the Freight Transport Association said: "Industry breathed a sigh of relief when the tolls were frozen under the previous Government to help protect local businesses and encourage the movement of goods.

"It's important that the econ-omic impact of toll increases affecting businesses that move goods along this vital road corridor are given proper consideration in this review."

The last Government made a historic decision in 2009 to freeze tolls until 2011.

The Humber Bridge says rises are now needed to cover maintenance and the bridge's 330m debt. There has not been an increase since 2006.

Chairman of the board Coun David Gemmell said they did not want to increase the tolls, but that depended on the Government finding a solution, including freezing or wiping off part of the debt.

One of the biggest impacts of the tolls is on patients travelling from north Lincolnshire to hospitals in and near Hull for cancer and heart treatment, when many are struggling to cope on a reduced income because of their illness.

A public inquiry last March would have seen car drivers having to pay 2.90 for a single crossing, an increase of 20p. But after pressure from businesses, local authorities and MPs, the Department of Transport decided against the rise. The Government then stepped in with 6m to plug the funding shortfall.