PLANS for a new £431 million toll bridge received a double boost this week.

New roads minister Paul Clark and the new shadow authority in Cheshire West and Chester have both pledged their support for the Mersey Gateway.

Council leader Cllr Tony McDermott, chairman of the Mersey Gateway executive board, said: “This is an important step as it means the Government has looked carefully at our detailed plans and is still happy that the proposals are good value for money and meet all the necessary financial targets.

“Major projects like this are complicated and take time to deliver, but we are still on track to start building in 2011 and open the bridge in 2014.”

The minister and Department of Transport have reconfirmed the project will receive £200 million to help fund its construction cost and keep toll levels minimal.

The new shadow authority for Cheshire West and Chester has backed the scheme though it has asked Halton Council to consider either a substantially discounted or free to use Silver Jubilee Bridge.

Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway director, said: “While we share their interest in developing the best possible discount package for local and frequent users of the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the funding agreement with Government is based on tolling both bridges.

“It is important to remember that a free to use Silver Jubilee Bridge is not an option for us.”

The total cost of the new crossing is £431 million.

The Department of Transport is contributing £86 million in grants plus a further £123 million in Private Finance Initiative credits.

The remainder of the funding will be invested by the private sector company that will be appointed to build and operate the bridge.

This company will then recoup this money through tolls paid by drivers who cross both the new bridge and the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge.

A public inquiry will be held early in 2009. A hearing date has been set for March.