DLA and Freshfields among firms advising on £600m Mersey Gateway Project

DLA Piper, Ashurst, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy are among the firms to have advised on the construction of a new six-lane toll bridge over the Mersey.

The project, which will connect the towns of Runcorn and Widnes, is believed to be worth in the region of £600m. Having kicked off almost a decade ago, the project came to financial close last Friday (28 March).

DLA Piper has been advising on the project since 2007 when it was instructed by Halton Borough Counsel to advise on the planning and land acquisition aspects of the deal. The mandate later increased to encompass other areas including procurement issues, tolling, and the implementation of new legislation.

Liam Cowell, head of DLA’s finance and projects group in the North West, led on the project finance aspects of the deal. Cowell worked alongside planning partner Howard Bassford and Robert Smith, who dealt with matters relating to tolling of the new bridge.

Planning director Kate Creer and legal director Vanessa Ralph advised on planning matters. Legal director Gail Keville was instructed on land acquisition. Senior associates Rubayet Choudhury, Sarah Armstrong and Ben Morton advised on project finance, while James Wood-Robertson and Carla Hancock assisted with tolling.

Freshfields advised the lenders and credit providers supporting the preferred bidder – the Merseylink Consortium – on bank and bond funding, as well as UK Guarantee Scheme aspects of the project. Partners Alex Carver, Chris Barratt and Nick Bliss led, alongside senior associates Alistair Black and Helen Jones.

Ashurst energy, transport and infrastructure head Mark Elsey and partners David Jardine and Derwin Jacobson advised Merseylink, which is comprised of Bilfinger Berger, Macquarie and FCC, on all aspects of the infrastructure project. The partners were assisted by senior associates Nicholas Ross-McCall and Alex Biles.

The deal also involves toll road operator Sanef, providing toll collection services under a separate contract. DWF advised the operator, led by infrastructure partner Suzanne Moir.

The deal is unusual in being the first public bond issuance to benefit from the UK Guarantee Scheme, which is designed to help critical infrastructure projects reach financial close.

The complex financing also included long-term commercial bank financing, a construction working capital facility from Korea Finance Corporation and long-term mezzanine finance provided by Macquarie.

Halton Borough Council and the Merseylink consortium made procurement savings of £250m under the budget set by the government for the project in 2011.