AN agreement to put in place measures to minimise the traffic nightmare in the town caused by the opening of the swing bridges has been agreed.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed by council leader Clr Terry O’Neill (LAB – Burtonwood and Winwick), the executive board member for transport, Linda Dirir (LAB – Penketh) and the owners of the swing bridges on the Manchester Ship Canal.

The agreement comes after the Warrington Guardian revealed in January that Peel Ports was expecting 720 vessels to sail through Warrington this year, with around 124 of these sailing between peak periods, causing a year of long delays and disruptions for motorists.

Clr O’Neill said the council has listened to the concerns of residents and businesses and has worked hard to negotiate a better deal for Warrington.

Clr Linda Dirir added: “The historic legal rights which Peel Holding acquired to operate the Manchester Ship Canal were designed in era before cars were invented and this agreement will make a difference. We will monitor the situation like hawks.”

By signing the MOU, Peel Ports have agreed to keep the number of times the swing bridges open at rush hour to less than 100 times a year.

A Peel Ports spokesman added: “We will also be looking at ways in which we can reduce the impact that this will have on traffic by not opening the swing bridge during rush hour traffic where possible, helping minimise disruption to driver journey times."

The council also reserves the right to review the final signed MOU at any stage should they feel the town’s interests are not being properly served.

Warrington South MP David Mowat said he was delighted that an agreement had been reached which ‘balances the needs of the traffic using the canal with those of the traffic crossing it’ but said a long term solution which reduces the amount of traffic using the swing bridges is still needed.

He said: “That’s why I have been working closely with the council, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Government to secure funding for a new high level crossing to deal with this issue for years to come.”

Nick Bent, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Warrington South also welcomed the news.

He said: “We will now seek even stronger guarantees for residents through my plan for a review of the Ship Canal legislation, for consideration of an independent tribunal to govern the swing bridges and for Tory Ministers to scrap the Mersey bridges road tolls as they have on a much bigger road scheme down south.”

Clr Ian Marks (LD - Lymm) added: “It has taken the council a long time to agree the memorandum but I welcome it.

“We must ensure Peel sticks to its side of the deal on swing bridge openings in rush hours and on stopping tolls on Warburton Bridge when the M6 is disrupted at the Thelwall Viaduct.”

Motorists facing serious traffic problems on the M6 by Thelwall Viaduct can use the Warburton toll bridge for free, the Warrington Guardian has learned.

The council has secured the better deal for residents following ongoing discussions with Peel Ports over the disruption caused by the swing bridges.

Peel Ports have agreed that when there are serious traffic problems on the M6 by Thelwall Viaduct, they will not charge motorists to cross the bridge.

The council has also included in its Waterfront Strategy a desire to build a high level crossing over the Mersey to alleviate the congestion at Bridge Foot as part of a longer term solution to the traffic problems in the town.