MOTORISTS living near the new Mersey Gateway will have "substantial discounts" on toll charges, councillors insisted last night.

Campaigners yesterday called for plans to introduce charges on the new bridge to be scrapped after the government gave the project the go-ahead.

Mersey Tunnels Users claimed charging drivers was grossly unfair and also criticised proposals to reduce the number of lanes on the existing Runcorn bridge to two.

John McGoldrick, secretary of the lobby group, said: "Most people would welcome a new Mersey crossing but no one wants it to be tolled.

"The existing four lane free bridge carries more traffic than the eight tolled lanes of the Mersey tunnels.

"It has already been revealed that if they build a tolled bridge, they will put a toll on the existing Runcorn bridge and reduce the lanes to two. This makes no sense, and is grossly unfair to local people and businesses.

"Road users contribute £50bn a year in taxes. They should not have to bear the burden and nuisance of tolls."

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling's announcement revealing the government was adding the bridge to its list of major schemes and pledging £209m, was yesterday hailed as one of the most important decisions for the region in recent years.

It means work can now begin on designing the bridge and securing contractors, but construction is not expected to be finished until 2014.

The tolls will help to pay for the bridge, which will cost £500m to build and run over 30 years.

Halton Borough Council leader, Tony McDermott, insisted tolls were the only way to ensure the bridge would be built.

He said: "If we were saying to government that there would not be any money raised through tolls then it would be a very short conversation.

"It is very much a price worth paying and there will be big discounts for local residents.

"It is the only way we will get the bridge, and that is the most important thing."

It comes as Halton borough celebrates another major boost for its economy.

Yesterday three developers were given planning permission for 180,000 sq ft of new buildings for office, distribution and light-industrial space on the Widnes Waterfront development area.

Development firm Priority Sites will build 10 office blocks on a 5.5-acre site, bordered by Earle Road and the newly created boulevard.

The Langtree Group is creating office space for small businesses on the corner of Earle Road, and the Forward Group will build office and distribution space on two separate sites as well as a new industrial or distribution park.

Cllr Rob Polhill, executive board member at Halton Borough Council said: "These planning permissions are a real shot in the arm for our plans for Widnes Waterfront. They build on the work that is currently ongoing at the site and show strong support and belief from the private sector in Widnes.

"We look forward to the developers getting on site and starting to help regenerate the area and create new jobs."