CHANCELLOR George Osborne has guaranteed £270 million in his budget to support the iconic Mersey Gateway bridge.

This is not money towards funding or tolls but paves the way for the £600m project to be financially secured and approved by the banks, builders and Halton Council.

Halton MP Derek Twigg welcomed the announcement but vowed to continue fighting for free tolls for Halton residents.

He said: “This is the most important milestone in terms of the Treasury signing off this major capital programme so contracts can be signed.

“But this doesn’t remove the problem of Halton people being forced to pay tolls to use their local road and the existing bridge, the A533 which is currently a free road.

“We met with George Osborne as a cross-party group of MPs in January. The Chancellor has said he will look at that and see what he can do.

“I’m surprised that he has made one statement about the Mersey Gateway but hasn’t said anything about the tolls.

“Given that he announced that the A14 in Cambridgeshire will not be tolled, it is wrong for people who currently use their local road for free in Halton to have to pay for it in future.”

A spokesperson for the Mersey Gateway project said: “Theannouncement from the Chancellor that the Government has confirmed a £270 million guarantee to support the project is great news.

“The Government is now guaranteeing around 50 per cent of the senior debt required to finance the project with the remainder being provided by the project finance market.

“This decision clears the way for financial close, when contracts will be awarded and all finance committed and we expect to achieve this in the very near future.

“Once we have completed this, more details of the financial arrangements and funding will be confirmed and announced.

“Preparations are taking place to allow construction work to commence in the coming weeks.”