Plans for a second bridge to be built across the River Mersey could be shelved, following a decision by the Government's Department for Transport to freeze schemes which are not yet under contract.
Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, announced yesterday that the Department for Transport will "play a full part in the spending review which will be reporting in the autumn". Hammond added: "Only once the Government's spending review has been concluded will the Department for Transport be in a position to identify those major investments that can be supported."
The £431m Mersey Gateway bridge project would connect Runcorn to Widnes and has previously had the backing of £86m from the DfT which is now under review.
The Department for Transport confirmed to Place that it will need an idea within the next month from the local authority on whether extra funding from the council, or private sources, can be sought for the project.
Steve Nicholson, Mersey Gateway project director at Halton Council, said in a statement today: "We're naturally disappointed at the news that any announcement on whether the Mersey Gateway will be given the go ahead has been deferred pending the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review in the Autumn.
"It had always been our expectation that future decisions on major projects would be subject to the outcome of the CSR.The granting of planning approval is naturally linked to the scheme being affordable and it therefore makes sense to confirm the funding decision before dealing with the formal planning approval."
"We believe that the funding model we have in place offers exceptional value for money at a time when projects of all kinds are coming under increased scrutiny.
"The government is looking to alternative funding sources to help relieve the deficit and Mersey Gateway could lead the way as it would be delivered with over two thirds of the funding provided through tolling. The project fits well with the criteria published recently by government under which the CSR will be undertaken.
"The Mersey Gateway team will be working with our partners to ensure that the case for the project continues to align closely to government priorities.
"Although we are delayed we remain confident that Mersey Gateway will be receive government support in the autumn and we can go on to deliver this vitally important project for Halton and the wider North West region."
Last month, Liverpool Vision announced that a Chinese investment company, Pudong Development Agency, was in discussions about investing in the project with Halton Council's chief executive David Parr. The project is one of the schemes being showcased at the Liverpool Pavillion at the World Expo in Shanghai.
The Government has provisionally agreed to provide around £123m worth of Private Finance Initiative credits to help part-finance the bridge, which would be paid for over 30 years.
Before the general election, it was hoped funding would be signed off in July.