CONTROVERSIAL proposals to double the toll to cross a North Yorkshire river have been rejected by a planning inspector.

The hike in the toll for using Aldwark Bridge, near Boroughbridge - from 40 pence to 80 pence - was debated at a public inquiry earlier this year.

Local residents said they used the bridge to save themselves a 25-mile round trip to use the next nearest crossing, and the head teacher of a local school warned that the increase would mean some families having to pay over £600 a year just to bring their child to and from school.

John Topliss, chair of Aldwark Area Parish Council, told the inquiry that Aldwark Toll Bridge LLP had failed to establish a justifiable business case for the proposed increase in line with the requirements of a 1954 Act.

Another objector, Kaye Carl, claimed the statutory requirements in the 1954 Transport Act had not been followed, and said there was no justification for the doubling of the toll which would provide an annual tax-free income of approximately £620,000, which was substantially more than adequate to meet expenditure on the working, management and maintenance of the bridge.

Aldwark Toll Bridge LLP had said previously that the increase was needed to fund major repairs to the bridge and its barrister David Hardy said it had 'clearly satisfied' the statutory conditions in the 1954 Act.

He said that as far as the applicant was aware, there had been no examples of a toll bridge operator being denied an application for an increase in tolls under the Act.

The applicant argued that without the toll increase the bridge undertaking would find itself in an unsustainable position.

They argued that the implications of closing the bridge on the local community should be considered, as a closure might be triggered if the maintenance costs could not be raised through increased tolls. 

But planning inspector Helen Heward concluded that the applicant had failed to satisfy statutory conditions in the 1954 Act and recommended the Transport Secretary to refuse to make a toll revision order. 

She said that if the bridge were to close due to insolvency, the adverse effects on the community would be more significant than the effects of toll increases, and fall most heavily on communities close to the bridge who relied heavily upon it to go about their daily lives. 

"However, I was not persuaded that a conclusion could be drawn from the evidence submitted that the bridge would be forced to close if the application is not approved."

Objector Kaye Carl said she was 'delighted' by the decision, but the bridge was in a 'dreadful state' and repairs were urgently needed.