FORMER Chancellor George Osborne has defended himself after breaking his promise over scrapping tolls on the new Mersey Gateway Bridge for Warrington's motorists.

Prior to the 2015 General Election, Tatton MP Mr Osborne made a pledge that motorists in Warrington and Cheshire West and Chester would have tolls waived.

However, ministers made a U-turn after confirming extending the discount scheme to Knowsley, Liverpool City Council and St Helens would cost £604 million – £377 million of which would have to be forked out by the five councils.

Last week, Warrington South MP David Mowat said two authorities had started legal proceedings against the Government on the matter.

The Warrington Guardian has pressed neighbouring authorities to see if they did.

However, Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens, Wirral and Cheshire East councils confirmed they did not begin proceedings.

Sefton Council is yet to respond.

The Warrington Guardian understands Department for Transport lawyers advised that a challenge would be likely to succeed.

Mr Osborne has responded following widespread anger from the borough's residents, with many now facing a £1,080 yearly bill.

He said: "I fought hard with local Conservative MPs to get the new bridge built after decades of delay – and you can see the amazing construction with your own eyes.

"I also wanted to protect residents, who live around the bridge, from the tolls needed to pay in part for its construction.

"That's why I insisted that Halton residents were exempted.

"As Chancellor, a year ago, I said the Government would 'look at' extending the exemption to people living further away and see if that was affordable.

"I'm no longer in the Government but I see their review concludes that would be too expensive for all the other taxpayers who would have to compensate.

"The key priority now is to get the bridge finished and open."

The six-lane bridge over the Mersey, between Runcorn and Widnes, will be tolled when it opens to traffic later this year, along with the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge.

The standard toll charge to cross either bridge will be £2 for a one-way trip in a car or a small van, with a discount pass for Warrington drivers set to be priced at £90 per month, amounting to £1,080 a year.

Back in 2015, Mr Mowat welcomed the then Chancellor's announcement.

At the time he said: "The last Labour Government introduced these tolls, Ed Miliband has refused to remove them.

"I’m delighted that the Chancellor has confirmed that the next Conservative Government will scrap Labour's tax on motorists and save Warrington drivers over £1,000 every year."

Labour's 2010 and 2015 general election candidate Nick Bent also expressed his views shortly after the pre-election Tory pledge from Mr Osborne.

He said: "Nobody will be fooled by the timing of this – it is only 14 days before the most important election in a generation.

"This is a desperate, unfunded and uncosted announcement – the votes of the people of Warrington can't be bought."

A petition titled 'Remove all tolls from the River Mersey' has racked up more than 1,070 signatures, with 145 coming from Warrington South and 41 from Warrington North.

Cllr Terry O'Neill (LAB – Burtonwood and Winwick) said he was 'shocked and very disappointed' by the news and suggested Mr Mowat should 'perhaps be considering his position'.

Cllr Steve Wright, chairman of Warrington South constituency Labour Party, also slammed the MP.

He said: "Like Cllr O'Neill, I am shocked and deeply unimpressed that the Government has ridden roughshod over their promise on the Mersey toll.

"The previous announcement now just looks like a piece of cynical game playing by David Mowat and the Conservatives, coming as it did very conveniently just before the last General Election.

"Mr Mowat has fooled the people of Warrington South who put him back in Parliament in the mistaken belief that he was on their side – he now owes them an explanation.

"This U-turn can only add to the congestion woes in Warrington and will cost some people an absolute fortune just to get to work.

"He has now blown away any last shreds of confidence that the residents had placed in him and should not expect people ever to back him again.

"I am joining the call for him to consider his position."

Cllr Amanda King (LAB – Great Sankey South) added: "I am not calling for him to consider his position as others have done, I am calling for him to resign with immediate effect."