Mersey bridge plan gets go ahead in Spending Review

Image caption,
The bridge plan now needs formal planning permission from the government

More than £500m has been pledged for transport projects in Merseyside and Cheshire as part of the Spending Review.

Chancellor George Osborne said the £431m second Mersey crossing between Runcorn and Widnes would go ahead.

He also approved the £100m upgrade of rail lines between Lime Street, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool.

However, arts groups in Liverpool face an uncertain future with cash cuts of almost 30%.

Halton Council leader Rob Polhill said it was "excellent news" that the Mersey crossing project would take place.

But rail commuters will face annual fare increases from 2012 to help pay for the upgrade to lines.

Merseytravel chief executive Neil Scales said he welcomed the news.

"This investment is fantastic news, it will make a real difference to transport in our region," he said.

"Electrification of the line will ensure that these services are clean and green; the investment will cut CO2 emissions drastically and ensure these services are much more reliable, comfortable and capable of carrying more passengers.

"It will also ensure travel times between Liverpool and Manchester are cut to around 30 minutes, enhancing business opportunities in the Liverpool City Region."

However, Campaign for Better Transport, a group which lobbies for cleaner and more economical transport, said large-scale projects were being used as a "smokescreen" to cover up "rocketing fares" on buses and trains.

It said that by 2015 an off peak fare between London and Liverpool would rise by 31.2% to £86.84 but it did welcome the news of railway upgrades in and around Manchester.

Chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "We are appalled at the Government's plan to allow rail fares to rise so far above the inflation rate.

"These eye-watering rises are unacceptable at a time when we should be growing the railways in order to tackle congestion on our roads and reduce carbon emissions in line with Government targets."

'Seriously damage'

Mr Osborne had already confirmed the six-lane Merseyside toll bridge, agreed under the last government, would escape the axe under the review.

It is aimed at easing congestion on the existing bridge.

The project was put on hold in June, when the Department for Transport (DfT) said it could not guarantee its £83m support until after the review.

Mr Polhill said he now hoped government planners would make a "speedy decision" so the council could "get on with building the bridge that we have been waiting for a decade."

He said: "We are pretty confident now, it is excellent news for the region, it is a sub-regional bridge and it is so important.

Image caption,
National Museums Liverpool said the cuts will lead to improvement schemes being cancelled

"It will bring a lot of jobs in the future, it is not just a bridge it is a gateway to investment."

Meanwhile, arts organisations in Liverpool are facing an uncertain future, after the Chancellor announced a budget cut of 29.6% for the Arts Council.

The organisation funds events such as DaDaFest, a festival for deaf and disabled people which attracts more than 11,000 people to Liverpool each year.

It was also announced that cuts to the budgets of national museums and galleries will not exceed 15% and free admission will remain.

Reacting to the news, Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: "This cut will seriously damage our ability to deliver world class museums and galleries.

"A 15% cut is on top of a 3.5% cut earlier this year which led to several National Museums Liverpool improvement schemes being cancelled.

"We now need to look at the figures closely. We will do our best to cope but our service to the public will suffer."

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