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pounds 3.6m cost of Gateway inquiry; Critics attack 'incredible' outlay on new bridge hearing.

Byline: LAURA SHARPE

PAYDAY came early for lawyers presenting plans for a second tolled bridge across the River Mersey.

Figures revealed to the Daily Post show the cost of the public inquiry into the Mersey Gateway Project ran to over pounds 3.6m.

The figure includes the costs of preparation work and expert reports, the team of QCs presenting the case for Halton Borough Council and hosting the six-week inquiry.

But it doesn't include the reimbursement of the planning inspector's costs which have yet to be received, but are expected to be under pounds 250,000.

Objectors to the pounds 431m project have branded the amount of money spent as "incredible".

John McGoldrick, who represented the National Alliance Against Tolls at the inquiry, said he was pleased people had the chance to object publicly at an inquiry.

He said: "Public inquiries give people the right to object and must take place whatever the costs associated with them, but this is a lot of money.

"But it's just a shame that the majority of the costs have gone into presenting one side of the case, so the more money that's spent on legal teams and reports the more positive the scheme may sound to increase the chances of it being approved.

"We, on the other hand, could only scrape together enough money to pay for two expert witnesses at 'mate's rates'."

Frank Kennedy, who formed part of the alliance of objectors for Friends of the Earth, said the costs were "incredible", given that taxpayers would also foot the bill for future tolls if the bridge was approved.

The inquiry, which ran over May and June this year, finished four weeks early after a number of groups withdrew their objections.

A spokesman for the Mersey Gateway Project said: "The full cost of the inquiry is less than 1% of the overall cost of the project.

"The public inquiry was an essential part of the legal process which lays down the formal scrutiny to ensure that the Secretaries of State, in reaching a decision whether or not to approve the project, takes into account all the views of interested parties.

"The inquiry presented a transparent and fair opportunity for all who wished to participate. We are confident that the inspector was able to thoroughly examine the case for the project."

Halton Borough Council is currently in talks with a small number of companies interested in building and operating the bridge if it is approved.

The decision is due to be passed by the planning inspector to the Secretary of State in the New Year, with a decision expected in the first half of 2010.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 30, 2009
Words:441
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