A PARLIAMENTARY debate is being held today over the bridge tolls.

It follows fines of £1 million being levied on drivers who have failed to pay tolls in the first month since the Mersey Gateway opened.

MPs across the north west have been invited to take part.

Chester MP Labour’s Chris Matheson called for the debate in October.

Speaking to the Backbench Business Committee in Westminster, Mr Matheson said: “There are now four crossings on the River Mersey and every single one is tolled, there are two tunnels and now two bridges.

“The problem is that the first bridge, the original crossing from Runcorn to Widnes has been tolled now that the new Mersey Crossing has opened.

“That adds a commuting costs of £1,000 to people, who, until now, did not have to pay.

“People in my area are rather bewildered and a little let down that we have to pay those charges.

“It comes at a time when bridges in other parts of the country – crossings across the Forth and the Severn – are being abolished.

“There have been public demonstrations against the tolls.”

Campaigning group Scrap Mersey Tolls is mounting a petition calling for the charges to be dropped.

John McGoldrick, from Scrap Mersey Tolls, said: “Scrap Mersey Tolls believes that all the tolls have a negative effect on the area and should be removed.

RUNCORN MP Mike Amesbury has blasted the ‘scandalous’ situation of having four tolled crossings over the Mersey in a Parliamentary debate on the Mersey Gateway.

In the special debate in the Commons, he also criticised the amount of fines dished out to constituents and expressed his disappointment at the pay and conditions of Mersey Gateway staff employed by private tolls collector Emovis.

He blamed the Conservative government, due to the fact former Chancellor George Osborne had promised free tolls for Cheshire West and Warrington in the run-up to the 2015 election, but this later failed to transpire.

He told MPs: “It wasn’t Halton Council, or the Labour Party who made and broke a promise to my constituents on bridge tolls – it was the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is the Conservative Government who must be accountable for this.”

He added: “Over £1 million in fines have been dished out in one month – and I have personally spoken to one elderly resident who had been in tears at the prospect of an £80 fine just before Christmas, simply for being a day late to pay the toll.

“Constituents are being hit with bills of £150 if they break down, due to a contract that means they must be towed by an approved private contractor and pay a charge before their car can be released from a compound.

“Whilst it is true that the bridge has created hundreds of skilled jobs during its construction, the jobs that support its ongoing operation are with a private sector company, Emovis.

“As a Labour politician, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t recognise a Trade Union, and doesn’t pay the real Living Wage.”

Mike also expressed disappointment at the way his calls for free travel over Christmas were dismissed so quickly by bridge bosses.

He added: “It’s not good for our economy, and it isn’t good for our region.

“I urge ministers to join me and my colleagues in finding a solution that ends tolls on the Mersey Gateway bridge sooner, rather than later.”

Halton MP Derek Twigg said: I was pleased to have been called to speak and have the opportunity to raise the issues that were the most important to my constituents.

“It is disappointing that the government did not agree to remove tolls for Halton businesses and those who live outside the borough.

“However I am pleased that the Minister agreed to look again at Halton residents in council tax bands G & H who are unfairly excluded from toll free travel.

“While the Minister has made no promises he has asked me for copies of the correspondence and press release from the former Chancellor George Osborne which promised toll free travel for all Halton residents.

“This is something that I will pursuing urgently with him.”