A CAMPAIGN to scrap bridge tolls is gaining momentum just weeks before the Mersey Gateway opens.

Halton employees who live outside the borough say they can’t afford to cross the bridge and fear they could end up out of work.

Businesses worried about their livelihoods have already lost contracts as the toll charges have made them uncompetitive.

MPs across the north west have joined forces to lobby the government to find another way to fund the crossing.

Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury, whose constituency includes Runcorn, said: “The tolls have become a tax on people, jobs, services and businesses.

“Staff at Capita call centre have raised their concerns. It will be a hit out of their income which many can’t afford.

“We hear grand talk of the Northern Powerhouse but if this bridge was being built down south there would be no tolls.

“It is also unprecedented for people suddenly to be charged to cross the Silver Jubilee bridge after 56 years.

“It’s about fairness.”

Former Chancellor George Osborne reneged on a pledge made in 2015 to offer Halton businesses a discount.

Halton MP Derek Twigg said: “It’s a scandalous decision by this Tory government to backtrack on its promises.

“I have raised the issue in Parliament and will continue to keep up the pressure.”

Richard Bamber, who runs Runcorn family coach firm Anthony’s Travel, fears firms will suffer.

“We have already lost staff and a tender because a school has found a company that doesn’t have to cross the bridge,” said Richard.

“With a 10 per cent discount which is being offered to all frequent business users, our coaches will be charged £7.40 each way compared to £2.40 on the Mersey Tunnel. That’s 200 per cent more.

“We work with community groups who can’t afford these increased charges.

“My biggest fear is losing clients.”

Halton Chamber of Commerce has lobbied the government to offer financial support for local businesses.

Taxi driver Robbie Hawkins said: “I have paid Halton Council for my taxi licence fees for 32 years, many thousands of pounds and now I have to pay to cross the bridge.”

Halton Council leader Cllr Rob Polhill said: “We fought for a long time to get this bridge and the government said it had to be tolled.

“We are concerned about businesses but inward investment has gone up and more companies have moved into the borough knowing it is going to be a tolled bridge.

“The new crossing is about connectivity and surety of travel.”

Anti toll protestors can’t understand how the Queensferry Crossing in Scotland which opened this week is of similar design but was cheaper to build and is free to cross.

John McGoldrick, from Scrap the Mersey Tolls, said: “What a pity that our politicians could not have achieved a new untolled bridge as the Scots have.”

A spokesman for the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board said: “The two bridge schemes are vastly different in terms of their financing, construction and delivery.

“The UK government, despite much lobbying, are clear – Mersey Gateway must be a tolled bridge.

“Mersey Gateway is on time and on budget. A competitive procurement process has enabled us to reduce costs and offer a variety of toll discounts.”