A PROTEST is being staged today over Halton’s new bridge tolls.

Residents are joining forces with businesses between 7.30am and 9.30am this morning.

They fear the new levy could put their livelihoods at risk.

Activists supported by morris dancers will gather on the Silver Jubilee bridge to make a final plea to the Government to scrap the charges.

The event organised by UKIP follows an online petition which has attracted thousands of signatures.

Representatives from the haulage industry, driving schools and other small businesses will be taking part.

Phil Busow, chairman of UKIP Runcorn said: “We are angered that this proposed £2 toll will be a stealth tax on jobs and business and it will put up the cost of living.

“Businesses using the bridges will inevitably pass on the cost to customers and people commuting to work will also be hit in the pocket.

“We have held protests at the Runcorn Bridge on previous occasions and the response for motorists is always virtually 100 per cent in support of us.

“The Runcorn bridge crossings will have the same electronic technology as used to collect the London congestion charge and it will inevitably catch thousands of motorists out and provide a windfall for the local authority by way of fines.”

The protest will start on the Widnes side of the bridge on Irwell Street.

The Mersey Gateway is introducing an automated vehicle recognition system for tolling when it opens in the autumn.

The Silver Jubilee bridge will also be tolled when it re-opens after major refurbishment once the new crossing is in operation.

David Parr, chief Executive of Halton  Council and the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, said: “The case for a toll-free crossing has been made to Government on a number of occasions over the last 10 years.

"Government’s response has been clear and consistent – it is a tolled Silver Jubilee Bridge and Mersey Gateway or no new bridge. The toll revenue is required to pay for the new bridge and associated road improvements.

"The council has been very clear since the project received initial approval from the Department for Transport back in 2006 that the only way the Mersey Gateway Bridge could be funded is by introducing tolls on the new bridge and the existing Silver Jubilee nridge.

"Tolling was considered at length at the Public Inquiry in 2009. The scheme was endorsed and approved by Government in 2010 as a tolled scheme.

"The contracts signed by Government, Merseylink (the contractor), the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board Limited and the council, is for two tolled crossings and sets out clear legal obligations, including obligations on tolls that are legally binding on all parties.

"The new bridge and improved road infrastructure will bring numerous benefits to both personal and business users. Users will see less congestion and a reduction in journey times.

"The free flow tolling system will make everybody’s journey across the river and through Halton quicker, easier and more reliable.

"The project has ensured that all users of the bridges will be eligible for one of our discount schemes and the council has worked tirelessly to ensure that the vast majority of local residents will receive unlimited travel across both bridges.

"We’d like to urge anyone who will use the new Mersey Gateway bridge to register for discounts on tolls as soon as possible and beat the rush by registering online at merseyflow.co.uk”