The long-awaited public inquiry into the second Mersey crossing opened in Widnes today, with an outcome in favour of building the bridge likely to facilitate a wave of development on both sides of the river. Urban Splash, which wants to develop a scheme in Runcorn, stands to benefit from the improved infrastructure, as does St Modwen, which is involved with the Widnes Waterfront site.
The main sticking point appears to be proposals to introduce tolls not only for the new bridge, known as Mersey Gateway, but also for the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge. A pressure group called the National Authority Against Tolls (using the catchy acronym NAAT) claims the idea will create an "economic blight" across the area.
On the other hand, Tony McDermott, the leader of Halton council (that's the bit around Widnes and Runcorn), says the existing bridge is suffering from "acute failure" and that building a new one
is economic, it fits the environment and it is deliverable within the funding terms we have agreed with Government.
There is an official public inquiry website but it doesn't say how long the inquiry is supposed to last. The programme for the inquiry has yet to appear on the site and will be published "when prepared". However, if the scheme is approved by the Secretary of State, work on the bridge could begin in 2011, with completion in 2014.