Friday, 18 August 2017

Public inquiry over Whitchurch toll rise

TRANSPORT minister Patrick McLoughlin has ordered a public inquiry into plans to raise the cost of using Whitchurch toll bridge.

TRANSPORT minister Patrick McLoughlin has ordered a public inquiry into plans to raise the cost of using Whitchurch toll bridge.

Four months ago, the Whitchurch Bridge Company asked the Government?s permission to increase the cash charge from 40p to 60p to cover the £6.4million cost of refurbishing the crossing.

The Grade II listed iron bridge, which is 113 years old, could not cope with modern traffic volumes so had to be dismantled while the carriageway was reinforced with steel girders.

The work began in October 2013 and finished in September last year, five months later than expected and £2.3million over budget.

It was set back by flooding in early 2014 and unforeseen difficulties in taking the bridge apart. The company also wants to raise the £3 toll for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes to £4.

It has already increased the concessionary fee for residents from 20p to 29.4p, which does not require permission, but says this will not go up further.

The inquiry will take place at the George Hotel in Pangbourne on May 19 from 10am and is expected to last all day.

It was called after 24 individuals and groups, including Whitchurch Parish Council, objected to the proposals.

The objectors will have a chance to present their case to the inspector alongside the company?s representatives.

The company says the increase is necessary to repay the £1.4million it borrowed for the reconstruction while covering its running costs and building savings for the next replacement a century from now. It says it will not seek further increases for 10 years if it is given the go-ahead.

A spokesman said: ?We regret that a toll increase is necessary. Bridge users can be assured that the secretary of state will only approve the increase if he believes it to be justified on the facts.?

Harry Butterworth, chairman of Whitchurch Parish Council, said councillors had not yet discussed whether to address the inquiry.

But he added: ?I think it is essential that it is held so that people have an opportunity to put their argument forward.?

The company last applied to increase the toll from 20p to 40p in 2008, which was granted a year later following a public inquiry.

Objectors picketed the bridge on the day it came into effect and police were called to move them on.

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