Warburton Toll Bridge Consultation ends Friday

August 18, 2021 12:00 AM
By Cllr Graham Gowland in facebook.com/CllrGowland

Warburton Bridge over Manchester Ship CanalTime is running out to respond to the Warburton Toll Bridge Consultation - there are only a couple of days left until the deadline on Friday 20th August. You can read Cllr Graham Gowland's comprehensive response below, and if you scroll to the end there is a template to assist you in preparing your own submission.

In 1864 a bridge was built across the River Mersey in Warburton by local merchants to allow trade between Cheshire and Lancashire. The tolling of this bridge was approved by the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863.

This bridge was a substantial stone and iron built structure, but now runs over a dry ditch (The Mersey was re-routed and now bypasses the bridge). This ditch has been filled in and as such the bridge has become defunct, and may even have been removed as the scrap value of the iron would have been substantial, and was no longer required to support the embankment road. It is on this obsolete/removed bridge that the tolls are applied.

The company had capital of £5,500 to build the bridge. The Act foresaw the building of the Ship Canal, and incorporated a specific clause that a bridge must be provided over the new 'cut', and it must be maintained at the sole cost of the developing company - the Manchester Ship Canal Company.

At the time the toll was introduced, the Act could have had a toll review process, but the Act clearly sets a fixed rate of charges, which caps the cost per crossing to 12.5p, and a maximum daily charge of 25p. at 12.5p a crossing, the costs of the undertaking would have been repaid after 44K crossings - roughly half a week at current levels.

The Act was amended in 1867 by a new Act, the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Amendment Act 1867. This Act prevented the paying of any dividends, and prohibited any company money to be used to amend the Act. It is fairly clear from the Act that the intention was that while tolls could continue to be raised, the 'profits' from any toll would have to be used to maintain and improve the bridge. Remember this is just the bridge that now runs over a dry ditch.

It is estimated 9,500 vehicles use the bridge every weekday with another 13,000 vehicles passing during the weekend, so we have a weekday daily income of £1,187.50 and a weekend income of £1,625 - or £7190 a week after VAT. Assuming 2 people on duty 24/7 (Which is not the case), at national minimum wage there are staff costs of £2,994, leaving a surplus of £4196 a week or £218,192 a year. The tolls have not gone down in 153 years, although of course wages would have been far lower in 1864, but this equates to a equivalent profit of circa £33M over the operating period of the bridge. How many times could the bridge have been replaced in its entirety with £33 Million, that by law can ONLY be spent on the operation and maintenance of the now removed bridge? It seems apparent the bridge has never been replaced and may even have been removed. I acknowledge these figures are all estimates, but the company would need to account properly to show the true extent of the profits.

So we have a bridge that was set up by local merchants, and was very quickly turned into a 'not for profit' company.

We have a revenue stream that is clearly more than adequate to operate and maintain the bridge and roadway (One has to question where these funds have gone).

After the Manchester Ship Canal Act was passed in 1885, it was amended in 1890 by the Manchester Ship Canal (various powers) act 1890. This Act covered the amalgamation of the companies, applying the rules set out in the Railways Clauses Act, 1863. This Act requires on amalgamation that 'The special Acts relating to or affecting the dissolved company or their undertaking in force at the passing of the amalgamating Act, shall, except so far as they are thereby expressed to be varied or repealed, remain in full force; ……… and all matters to be done, continued, or completed, or which but for the amalgamation would, might, or could be done, continued, or completed, by the dissolved company, or their directors, officers, or servants, under or by virtue of those Acts, shall or may be done, continued, or completed by the amalgamated company, ….. so far as it relates to or affects the dissolved company or their undertaking, shall be read and construed as if the name of the amalgamated company had been used therein in relation to that undertaking instead of the name of the dissolved company. In addition, the transfer of undertakings is covered in the 1890 Act.

Cllr Graham GowlandI notice in your consultation you say" The current high-level cantilever bridge crosses the Manchester Ship Canal on the B5159 road, connecting the A57 with the A6144, and the toll covers the entirety of the Canals undertaking, from Warburton village to the A57.". Notwithstanding your comment, this does not make the tolls applicable to the maintenance on the high level bridge, as per the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863.

In relation to the operation of the original toll bridge and its access roads, the same restrictions apply.

Now of course we have the 'new' Cantilever Bridge built in 1893, but it is clear that the maintenance of this bridge must, under the 1863 Act be met in it's entirety by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, with no 'call' on the profits of the now defunct original bridge.

In 2020 the MSCC declared profits of £28 Million on a turnover of £44 million - 63.64% profit margin. They declared a fixed asset value of £63.1 Million - a RoFA rate of 44.37%.. The MSCC paid dividends in 2020 of £19 Million

Aside from specific legislation relating to the Bridge, the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954 S6 states "….the Minister shall have regard to the financial position and future prospects of the undertaking and shall not make any revision of charges which in his opinion would be likely to result in the undertaking receiving an annual revenue either substantially less or substantially more than adequate to meet such expenditure on the working, management and maintenance of the undertaking and such other costs, charges and expenses of the undertaking as are properly chargeable to revenue, including reasonable contributions to any reserve, contingency or other fund and, where appropriate, a reasonable return upon the paid up share capital of the undertaking. The relevant share capital is £5,500, and the existing profits are more than enough to cover the operating costs of the crossing, given the main structure is separately a statutory expense of the ship canal company. Peel may wish to submit that "there are special circumstances affecting the undertaking", as refurbishment works are needed, but firstly these mainly relate to the separately maintained bridge, and secondly the level of works needed appear to mainly due to the neglect of the structure. The proposed increase, minus VAT, would raise turnover to £58,800 per week - or just over £3 million a year. Given the proposed costs (Which are mainly focused on the bridge the tolls do not maintain) are circa £6 million, and the tolls would be automated, a new bridge could be built every 2 years with the revenue generated.

So we have a bridge in Warburton that cannot be operated at a profit, and has to be maintained by the Manchester Ship Canal Company. We have ample reserves in the form of past profits - more than ample to cover the refurbishment costs of the bridge.

The Manchester Ship Canal Company is owned by Peel holdings, that is owned by Mr John Whittaker, who maintains a 75% majority stake in the group, with the Olayan Group owning a 25% stake.

We hear a lot about the tolls for the bridge, and the constant message is that 'tolls must be charged'. It is true that under the the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. tolls can be charged for a steam powered carriage - now interpreted as a car up to a daily rate of 2 shillings and sixpence (12.5p) per crossing, but capped at 25p a day for multiple crossings. Key words in the Act are 'May set up a toll" and "may demand and take" - words that mean that there is no compunction to charge any toll.

It is my belief that Warburton Bridge and the associated Cantilever bridge should be brought up to capacity to carry a modern 'cart' = a lorry, at the expense of the its owners, utilising a small part of the accrued profits, that under the original (and still applicable) Act cannot be used for any other means.

It is of course appropriate for the Manchester Ship Canal Company to charge the 12.5p for the crossing, and this charge delivers a return that more than covers the operating (Including maintenance) cost of the current bridge, and would more than cover the annual running and repair costs of any new bridge, especially when combined with the accrued profit of the last 131 years since the company obtained the Rixton & Warburton Bridge.

Rixton & Warburton BridgeRemember while the original bridge (long removed or buried within an earthen embankment) and roads can be maintained from the tolls, the Cantilever bridge and replacement costs is entirely the responsibility of the Manchester Ship Canal Company, and revenue from the tolls CANNOT be used for this part of the crossing.

It's also worth raising that the area of the old bridge and the Toll cottage now falls under the Warburton Conservation Area. Looking at the general decrepit state of the crossing buildings, there seems to have been little consideration for this by the operating company, but this needs to be considered when any developments take place.

Once the crossing is brought up to a modern standard, I would ask that Trafford & Warrington Councils buy the tolls at a nominal charge - I would suggest one peppercorn. The crossing would then become a County Bridge.

I note that you have started this consultation by requesting submissions are sent to the company. You will of course be aware that this is not the correct process for such a consultation - that requires a notice to be published in appropriate newspapers, and responses sent to the Minister for Transport - I submit this consultation should not be run in this way, as those who have submitted on this initial request may not know they will need to submit to the Minister.

Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863

The Rixton and Warburton Bridge Amendment Act 1867

Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954

Manchester Ship Canal (various powers) Act 1890

Railways Clauses Act, 1863

Warburton Conservation area

Template for your own submission to the consultation

Your submission needs to be in your own words, but you may find it useful to follow this format:

Your relationship with the bridge - eg. I cross this bridge ever day to work, and currently spend 24p. The proposed increase would add £1.76p to my daily costs, nearly £500 a year. Given 9K people cross the bridge every weekday, this could take an additional £4 Million a year out of the local economy.

A comment on the legalities - The bridge was established to serve the local community, and I believe that was the intent of those who established it. It was granted an Act Of Parliament in 1867 that appears to make it a 'not for profit' company, and this seems a cynical attempt to boost the companies profit at the expense of local communities.

A comment on the current tolls - The current tolls are an anachronism, and really should be dropped, but they clearly cover the operational cost of the road at the current levels.

A comment on the bridge repairs - I now know the bridge the toll applies to no longer exists, which calls in question the whole need for the tolls, but I also realise the cantilever bridge is the responsibility of the Ship Canal company to repair - I would ask why it has been allowed to fall into such disrepair, that it can now only carry vehicles weighing less than 3 tons.

A comment on what you think should happen - I believe Peel should meet their obligations and repair the cantilever bridge, and transfer the tolls to the local councils. I would hope they would then maintain the roads, which is all than now remains of the old crossing. Peel would benefit as they will no longer have to maintain that part of the crossing, and you are of course already responsible for repairing the cantilever without using the toll money.

A comment on the consultation - I am happy to make my views known to you, but please note I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Transport when the legal consultation notices are served.

Conclusion - A nice succinct conclusion. Does this proposal make you happy about Peel? Does it make you think they are money obsessed?

Now send your email to warburtontollbridge@peelports.com. Also copy in your MP:

You may also want to copy in the bridge action group warburtontollactiongroup@gmail.com. And remember - when the consultation becomes 'official' you will need to send your comments to the Minister for Transport, or they won't count. Follow/like @CllrGowland on Facebook for updates.