THE existing Runcorn Widnes bridge and the proposed new Mersey Gateway should be free, anti toll campaigners claimed this week.

As the public inquiry into the £431 million crossing entered its seventh day, both sides continued to fight their case, with only a handful of the public present.

Halton Council believes the crossing with create up to 5,000 new jobs, regenerate the region, attract investment and solve congestion.

Opponents fear tolls will divide the borough, claim the new bridge is far too expensive and diverting along Runcorn’s Central Expressway will disturb many residents.

John McGoldrick of National Alliance Against Tolls cross examined Halton Council’s expert witnesses at Stobart Stadium yesterday.

He said: “If there is no inflation, the tolls could add up to over 1.6 billion pounds and with three per cent inflation the tolls over 30 years would be over three billion pounds.”

Mr McGoldrick, an accountant, criticised the council for failing to include detailed figures in their financial analysis.

Richard Threlfall, Halton Council’s financial expert, said “There is a very high degree of interest in investing in this scheme.”

He said the council did not want to divulge confidential information before they invited companies to tender.

“It would prejudice the council getting value for money and jeopardise the chance to get the lowest tolls on the bridge.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr McGoldrick said: “We think the existing bridge should be left as it is and a new smaller, four lane bridge built free to use.

“The Government collects £50 billion from road tax and hardly spends any of this on our roads.

“They are blackmailing Halton into believing we can only have a new bridge if it is tolled.”