FEARS that tolls on the proposed £431 million second Runcorn bridge could cripple small businesses were dispelled this week by Halton’s council leader.

The Forum of Private Business warns struggling companies could be unfairly hit by the levy.

Chief executive Phil Orford said: “Clearing congestion by building a new bridge would be of direct benefit to businesses but it would be wrong to fund it by forcing them to pay tolls on either crossing.

“The new bridge should be paid for by councils donating their government transport grants, topped up by council tax funds.”

Clr Tony McDermott said:” We’ve obtained support from businesses large and small throughout the region.

“Our biggest supporters are people who move a lot of traffic around because they face real problems in the future without a new bridge.

“No scheme of charging councils could possibly fund a new bridge.

“We are confident, provided we get a proper deal for local people and frequent users, the Mersey Gateway will be good for business, not only in Halton, but throughout the region.”

The six week public inquiry closes tomorrow after hearing campaigners speak for and against the proposed bridge.