HOPES of a bridge across Morecambe Bay linking Furness with the M6 have been shot down at a stormy meeting of Barrow Council.

Labour councillors dismissed the £8billion proposal as a “stupid, worthless idea” and warned it would be too costly and could kill off Barrow town centre.

It follows the launch of a petition by Conservative opposition councillor Alan Pemberton which has now gathered close to 600 signatures of support.

Cllr Pemberton said a bridge would cut journey times to Junction 34 of the M6 to 20 minutes, end hold-ups on the A590 and open up Barrow to new development.

But during a discussion of the idea at a full meeting of the council in the town hall, Cllr Brendan Sweeney branded it “ludicrous”.

Cllr Sweeney asked for reassurances that “not a penny of council money,” or a “minute of council officer time” would be spent on the idea.

He said the cost would amount to £8billion - equivalent to hundreds of thousands “for every man, woman and child” in Cumbria.

He said journey times would take 40 minutes, not 20, and that the council should focus on schemes to improve the A590, A595 and rail links.

He said: “The only explanation to me is that Cllr Pemberton is trying to create a smokescreen for his Government’s failure to invest in transport infrastructure in South Cumbria.”

Cllr Tony Callister said: “I am standing up shaking my head, I really am. We are talking about billions to make a barrage that really, would not serve a massive purpose.”

Cllr Frank Cassidy called it “a bridge too far.” and Cllr John Murphy said: “This ludicrous idea would be the death knell for Barrow-in-Furness.

“If your wives and girlfriends wanted to go shopping, they wouldn’t go to Debenhams here. They would use the little trip across the Bay to go to Morecambe or Lancaster. It would empty Barrow-in-Furness.”

The meeting was told that Morecambe Bay was a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and was an internationally-protected Ramsar Site.

“You cannot build on a Ramsar site without international permission,” said Cllr Murphy. “It is a stupid, worthless idea.”

Cllr Pemberton hit back: “I’m afraid this is again typical of what this council has done over the last eight years - negative, negative, negative.

“You don’t get anything unless you fight for it and this borough has given in before we’ve even bloody started by making statements like we’ll never get it,’ and it’ll never happen.  You talk the talk but your actions speak louder than the words.”

As voices became raised and comments were made between both parties across the floor of the council chamber, town mayor Cllr Bill McEwan intervened to halt the “argy-bargy”.

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Pemberton insisted that despite the failure to win support from the council, the funding could be found from a private and public sector partnership.

He said: “The new Firth of Forth bridge is on a Ramsar site. These things are always possible but if you don’t try and achieve it, you will never get it.”