Write off more of the bridge’s debts, urge leaders

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THE Treasury should consider slashing the Humber Bridge’s debt to allow tolls to be cut as part of efforts to use better transport to grow Yorkshire’s economy, a Government body has been told.

Leaders of councils around the Humber have recommended a cut to the bridge’s £170 million debt among a series of proposals to tackle transport problems they argue are holding the area back.

The recommendation has emerged as MPs from both sides of the Humber campaign for the bridge tolls to be suspended during Hull City of Culture in 2017.

Critics of the idea have argued the Humber Bridge would have to shoulder the cost, adding to the debt which is not due to be paid off until 2038.

Chancellor George Osborne agreed to write off a chunk of the debt three years ago in a move designed to allow toll rises to be avoided.

The proposal for a further write-off is included in a submission from Humber council leaders to the National Infrastructure Commission which is looking at how transport improvements could help grow the economy.

The document says the first write-off has contributed to a 26 per cent increase in traffic on the bridge and brought “significant economic and social advantages to the area”.

It adds: “It is highly likely that further reduction in tolls facilitated by further debt “write off” would lead to even greater economic advantages although a detailed study is needed to consider the business case in detail.”

David Hooper, external affairs manager at the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber campaigned long and hard, along with other stakeholders, to get the bridge tolls brought down and a big chunk of the debt written off. We have since campaigned to ensure the tolls stay at £1.50 per crossing for cars for the foreseeable future.

“The Humber Bridge ties the North and South Banks of the Humber together and the reduction in toll costs has undoubtedly boosted the region’s economy as the increase in traffic shows.

“As a regular bridge user myself, I would welcome a further cut in the cost of crossing the river, but this is unlikely to happen any time soon.”

Asked about how likely it was that the Government would accede to their request, Hull cabinet member Coun Steve Bayes said: “If you don’t ask you don’t get: it is something that the four authorities all agree on.

“The bridge is a major part of the country’s infrastructure and it should be nationally funded. It would assist economic development for the region.”

The Humber Bridge Board declined to comment.

The submission includes adding lanes to the A63 dual carriageway or creating a new road around the north of Hull to connect the port to the M62.

It also presses the case for the electrification of the railway between Hull and the East Coast Main Line, a project already under development.

The document calls for investment in transpennine road and rail links to be a priority.