HALTON driving instructors fear the bridge tolls could put the brakes on them and other small businesses.

Many say they will no longer cross the river and will only work on one side because the £4 return levy will make lessons too expensive.

Others are already planning to quit or retire.

Instructors fear the Widnes test centre on Everite Road could close if there is a drop in demand.

This means Runcorn learners might have to go to Northwich or Warrington to be examined and Widnes learners may have to travel to St Helens.

Widnes driving instructor Graham Cain, from Farnworth, who has been teaching for 35 years, said: “The tolls will split the borough.

“All the driving instructors I have spoken to are saying they won’t be crossing the bridge.

“This will cause hardship to poverty stricken parents who want their children to learn to drive. To get familiar with the new test routes they may have to pay for double lessons.”

Halton Driving Instructors Association met the local driving test manager last night, Tuesday, to discuss the crisis.

Mr Cain said: “We are concerned about safety.

“Taking a learner across the new bridge is essential. There will be six lanes and lots of access routes.

“But if they won’t be having lessons over the new crossing they could be driving over it on their own for the first time.”

Driving instructors were shocked to discover the Government has reneged on a promise to offer Halton’s small businesses a toll subsidy.

Mr Cain said: “We feel kicked in the teeth. We are very worried about our livelihoods.

“Self employed traders, plumbers, handymen, taxi drivers and painters in Halton are being discriminated against.

“We will be charged £1,080 a year yet as Halton residents we should be entitled to free tolls.”

A Facebook campaign to fight the tolls has attracted many comments.

Instructor Terry Atherton posted: “Why am I having to pay? I’m a Halton resident. Surely the system is totally unfair. I’m being punished for having a job.”

Instructor Margaret Blythe, from Widnes, added: “I am considering not taking Runcorn students on. My Widnes students will lose out because I won’t be taking them over the bridge so being able to get them familiar with the Runcorn side won’t happen.

“Lessons are expensive enough without increasing them by £4-£8 for a two hour lesson.

“Widnes Test Centre will lose business leading to maybe lost jobs or closure.”

David Parr, chief executive of the Mersey Gateway and Halton Council, said: “Driving instruction is a business and will be required to pay a toll like all other businesses.

"This has been the case since 2009 when the Public Inquiry determined the bridges must be tolled.

“Mr Osborne when Chancellor suggested there would be a scheme to support small enterprises such as driving instruction businesses.

“The Government recently re-confirmed that all businesses are required to pay tolls and there will be no scheme to assist them.

“The tolls are required to fund the improved connectivity being delivered by Mersey Gateway.

“In turn, this will provide additional business opportunities for driving instructors by reducing congestion and improving free movement across the river.”

Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) area operations manager Bruce Attwood said: “DVSA is committed to serve the communities of Widnes, Runcorn, Warrington and surrounding areas.

“Recent decisions to introduce bridge tolls will not affect the continued provision of testing in Widnes. DVSA may amend existing test routes to avoid tolls.”