A ROW has blown up over claims that staff manning a Hampshire toll bridge could be replaced by an automated barrier.

Motorists are charged £1 return for using a narrow bridge over the waterway that separates most of Eling from the oldest part of the village.

The future of the keepers was raised at a meeting of Totton and Eling Town Council.

Cllr David Harrison, a member of the Liberal Democrat opposition group, said the council was considering a proposal to replace them with a barrier.

But this was immediately denied by Conservatives in the Totton area.

Richard Young, chairman of Marchwood Parish Council, said he had received an assurance there were “no definitive proposals” to make the keepers redundant.

Cllr Neville Penman agreed, saying the council was simply looking at ways to ensure everyone who drove over the bridge paid the toll.

Writing on social media Cllr Harrison said it would be a “big mistake” to replace the keepers with a barrier.

He added: “The toll keepers do more than collect money. As local people and visitors will know, they are generally very friendly and almost mini-information officers.

“They’re part of the fabric of the Eling experience and have been of particular help at times on community safety issues.

“A barrier cannot exercise discretion and I hate to think what sort of problems will arise when somebody pulls up and cannot get through for the want of a pound coin.

“I proposed that the whole idea be abandoned and was supported by Cllr Caroline Rackham. Overall I think the toll keepers do a great job. The operation runs at a healthy profit most years. They are very popular.”

Totton Town Council confirmed to the Daily Echo that the discussion would be “up for debate soon”, and that no definitive proposals had been put forward as of yet.

Claims that the keepers could be made redundant have sparked outrage on social media.

One person posted: “They don’t just collect the toll money. They provide on-the-spot information about Totton in general, including parking options and historical information. They are a valuable human asset in these times of cold, inflexible automation.”