'Scrap bridge debt' call by MP

THE campaign to cut tolls for traffic using the Humber Bridge is being stepped up in Parliament, where Ministers face renewed pressure to write off the crossing's crippling debts.

Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart has put forward a motion calling on the Government to examine the feasibility of scrapping the 333m of re-maining debts, built up over the three decades since it opened.

The tolls have remained a constant thorn in the side of business leaders, who regard the charges as a millstone around the local economy.

The early day motion is the

latest effort in the campaign to persuade the Government to step in and end the long-standing debt facing the Humber Bridge. Local travellers now face one of the highest tolls in the UK – 2.70 for a single car crossing.

Last year users of the bridge launched on online petition calling on the Government to write off the outstanding debt and enable the Humber Bridge Board to reduce its tolls. Organisers from the Humber Action Against Tolls (HAAT) pressure group have now collected more than 8,000 signatures.

Mr Stuart said: "The Government has already written off and suspended a substantial amount of the Humber Bridge debt and should be congratulated for doing so.

"However, local businesses still regard the high tolls as a hindrance to the region's economy because it deters investment. It also hits the most vulnerable the hardest – those who travel across the bridge to attend hospital appointments.

"The Government's response to the public pressure has been inadequate and disappointing but in the long-term I'm hopeful they will begin to change their position and scrap the current punitive levels of debt."

The Humber Bridge was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world for 16 years. The original estimated cost of construction was 28m, which grew to 98m by completion.

Due to interest charges the Humber Bridge Board, which oversees the running of the bridge, saw its debt rise to 439m.

The Humber Bridge (Debits) Act 1996, passed by MPs to reorganise the Board's debts in order to safeguard the crossing's future maintenance, cut the sum to the present 333m.

This has led to the board charging a toll at 5.40 for a return car crossing.

Mr Stuart added: "This is the most expensive toll crossing in the country – that local businesses regard as a hindrance to the local economy because it discourages investment."

The early day motion underlines fears expressed by Richard Kendall, policy executive at the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, that the charges stop businesses on the north bank investing in the south bank and vice versa.

A Government spokesman said: "The Humber Bridge was promoted as a local road by the local authorities of Humberside. Therefore, the Humber Bridge is the responsibility of the relevant local authorities rather than central government.

"In recent years the Government has done a great deal to assist with the finances of the Humber Bridge. It has written off and suspended a substantial amount of the debt so relieving the local taxpayers of Humberside of a cumbersome burden of debt.

"However, the Government does not think it necessary or practical to write off all debt at the Humber Bridge. To do so would result in an extremely heavy cost to the public purse."