WORK on the iconic £600 million Mersey Gateway is starting immediately after all the legal papers have been signed.

Halton Council and the Merseylink consortium today announced procurement savings of £250m by reaching financial close.

This means that all the 30-year contracts have been agreed to construction can being.

The savings will cut the estimated £2bn repayment costs.

It marks a major milestone after more than 20 years of campaigning.

The tolled six lane crossing is set to create 470 jobs during construction and 4,640 permanent jobs through regeneration.

Halton Council leader, Clr Rob Polhill, said: “This has been a tremendously long journey and I’d like to pay tribute to the hard work of everyone who has got us to this point and delivered millions of pounds of savings on the project.

“This is an historic day for Halton, but in many ways the real work starts now. We’ll now be working closely with the Merseylink team to help build a bridge that will create jobs, encourage investment and be a catalyst for regeneration in the area.”

Since the project received preliminary support from Government in 2006, Halton Council has delivered thie project through a complex planning and procurement process.

Chris Rhead, project director for Merseylink Consortium, said: “The consortium’s equity partners of Macquarie Capital Group Limited, Bilfinger Project Investments Europe Limited and FCC Construcción are extremely pleased to have concluded the financial and commercial arrangements for this project and look forward to its commencement.”

Stephen Cardwell, project director for the Merseylink Construction Joint Venture, said: “We’re very pleased to have finalised this deal.

“The Merseylink consortium brings together leading bridge design, construction and tolling professionals who have worked on projects around the world, and I know the team is very excited about the Mersey Gateway Project. We’ve already started our work to engage with the local supply chain and potential employees and the response we have had has been encouraging.

“Delivering a project of such magnitude, which will bring clear benefits to local communities and the region as a whole, requires the strongest possible team.

“This will be one of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe over the next three and a half years, and I’m confident we will be able to bring together highly motivated staff to take the project to fruition. At our peak we will be employing more than 500 people to work on the project”

Steve Nicholson, interim chief executive of the Mersey Crossings Board and the project director leading up to financial close, said: “When we set out our procurement approach three years ago we deliberately chose a strategy that would allow our potential private sector partners to innovate, save money for the public purse and add value to the project. Merseylink has delivered on all three fronts and we are excited to be concluding this deal today.”