THE toll for using a bridge to cross a North Yorkshire river may be set to double from 40 pence to 80 pence.

The new owners of Aldwark Bridge have applied to the Government for permission for the hike, claiming it is needed to fund a series of major repairs and improvements to the bridge over the River Ure near Boroughbridge.

But the headteacher of a local school has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to protest against the increase because of the impact on parents who use the bridge to take their children to and from his school each day from the Aldwark side.

Nick Oswald,head of Great Ouseburn Primary School, said: "The proposed increase would mean that families would have to pay over £600 a year just to bring their child to school.

"In the current circumstances, this additional financial pressure on families seems grossly unfair."

He added that an alternative route avoiding the toll bridge would involve 40-mile round trip.

The Westwick Group, which bought the bridge in August,said it had been assessing what improvements were needed to maintain and improve the service offered.

"The bridge has suffered from a lack of investment, and a professional survey carried out by a firm of specialist bridge surveyors has highlighted the works that need to be done," it said.

"The works include repairing the archways, painting the bridge and repairing or even replacing the entirety of the deck.

"The works are essential to prevent further decay which would result in the bridge having to close for a lengthy period."

It said it was also its intention to try to improve the traffic flow and reduce congestion on the bridge approaches, which was very narrow, by introducing a form of automation.

It was in discussions with traffic consultants to investigate whether it was feasible to introduce an intelligent traffic light system,which would prevent two cars having to squeeze past each other, making crossing the bridge safer and quicker.

"The bridge is your community asset, and whilst we are custodians of it, we have a duty to protect and to enhance it so that it can be used not only now, but also for future generations," it said.

"It is our intention to reach out to the community and to protect what is your asset.

"The cost of what we have outlined runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds and, unfortunately, this has to be met by tolls which reflect the running costs and hence, after much consideration, we have applied for the toll increases."