• Author:Ben Jones
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Labour tries more spin; this time on the Mersey Gateway

The following story has appeared in the Widnes and Runcorn Weekly News (including a quote from me). It is another example of Labour saying anything to cling to power:

Labour accuses Tories of jeopardising Mersey Gateway project

WIDNES and Runcorn’s £431m Mersey Gateway bridge project could be at risk if the Conservatives come to power.

The claim comes from Labour chiefs who are horrified at Tory plans to scrap regional government powers.

Last week a document leaked to Planning Magazine revealed that the Conservatives would abolish regional government ‘regional spatial strategies’ (RSS) which lay out plans to develop regions over 15-20 years.

A Mersey Gateway spokesman said the RSS contributed £4m to the bridge development costs and played a big part in assessing and scrutinising the scheme’s blueprints.

Phil Woolas, Labour’s North West minister, warned construction would ‘grind to a halt’ and said major regional projects, including the bridge, would be at risk.

He said: “It would be absolute chaos if the Tories did this. And the immediate impact would be that the construction industry would grind to a halt.

“How would you build the Mersey Gateway or electrify the Liverpool to Manchester rail line? It is also nonsense to suggest this would hand powers to local authorities – those powers would simply go back to Whitehall.”

But a Mersey Gateway team spokesman said it is impossible to tell whether preparations for the bridge would have gone ahead if there was no RSS, and that central Government, not regional, has the final decision on giving the go-ahead, regardless of who is in power.

Ben Jones, Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate, said he has already argued for the importance of the second bridge to Shadow Transport Minister Stephen Hammond, who agreed that building the bridge was ‘an important project’.

Bob Neill, Shadow Minister for Local Government and Planning, said: “Phil Woolas is talking rubbish. Labour’s regional planning quangos don’t build anything, but just add another layer of planning red tape.”