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Promise to keep toll staff at historic crossing after row over automatic barrier plans

The toll bridge at Eling is manned seven days a week
The toll bridge at Eling is manned seven days a week

TOWN councillors have agreed not to install an automated barrier at a historic toll bridge in Totton, or make the staff who man it redundant.

The pledge for the crossing at Eling follows a dispute between Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of Totton and Eling Town Council after a list of future projects in the area was considered at a sub-committee meeting.

Lib Dem Cllr David Harrison claimed afterwards that the Conservative-run council was considering a proposal to replace toll bridge staff with an automated barrier.

A petition was set up by fellow Lib Dem Cllr Caroline Rackham, and this week the number of signatures stood at around 1,000.

But the council’s Tory chair, Cllr Neville Penman, denied there were any firm plans and said it was simply looking at ways to ensure everyone who drove over the bridge paid the toll.

Speaking at the council’s full meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Harrison put forward a proposal that there be no redundancies of existing toll booth staff, nor would a barrier system be installed.

Members voted eight in favour and one against. There were nine abstentions.

One of those who abstained was Cllr Kate Crisell, who said a feasibility report into the options for the toll bridge should be carried out before anything was discounted.

She said: “This is a terrible way of going about it. We should get all the information and look at it as a business decision.”

Cllr Dave Hills agreed an all-options report should be compiled but that the toll bridge staff should be retained.

He said: “There is a difference between putting in a barrier and getting rid of staff. My understanding is any system would aid the toll bridge workers by taking money. A lot of people want to use cards and it is unmanned during bank holidays. The automated system would mop that up.”

The motion was also approved, with nine members in favour and seven against. There were three abstentions.

The bridge at Eling Hill, which is owned by the town council, is thought to date back to before 1700. Motorists are charged £1 per day for a return journey, and motorcyclists 70p, at varying times seven days a week.

The income helps to maintain the bridge and the adjacent historic mill as well as preventing it becoming a rat-run and damaging the bridge.

Town clerk Derek Biggs said the reason behind looking at changes to the toll bridge was due to a loss in revenue over the last two years.

Possible changes could include new chip-and-pin machines, a price increase or extended hours of charging. The council will resume discussions on the measures once reports have been carried out.

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