NEWS of a government study into removing the barriers at the Dartford Crossing has raised questions over whether its sale is still planned.

During a Commons debate this week Transport Minister MP Mike Penning revealed the Department for Transport (DfT) had begun looking into removing the barriers at the toll booths.

The toll fees would remain and it is expected motorists would pay the charge online or via phone before the journey - the same system as London’s congestion charge.

Addressing the Commons, Mr Penning said there was a “need to consider technology” to “remove the barriers and increase the speed at which traffic comes through”.

He said this would allow the government to continue “picking up the revenue that the country desperately needs”, which is around £40m a year.

A DfT spokesman said the plans were at an early stage and feasibility studies into the cost, benefits and impact of the scheme would be carried out.

Local politicians are divided over whether the government spending money on a study and removing the barriers indicates it is planning to sell the crossing to a private company.

The previous Labour government had planned to sell the crossing this summer, but the new Tory-Lib Dem regime has not announced whether or not it will go ahead with the sale.

All that Chancellor George Osborne said about it in his budget was that “decisions will be made” at the end of the government spending review in autumn.

James Willis, who was Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Dartford at the last election, believes the barrier scheme may indicate the government will keep the crossing.

Mr Willis, who regularly holds protests against the sale of the crossing and the toll fees, said: “It seems to be a step in the right direction.”

However, Dartford Council leader Councillor Jeremy Kite believes the government may be attempting to tackle the congestion in order to make the crossing more appealing to potential buyers.

He said: “It seems nobody will buy the crossing until the congestion has been dealt with because it impacts on people’s health.”

Like Cllr Kite, Gravesham Council leader Councillor Mike Snelling is against the sale of the crossing and the tolls, but he says he has “no idea” whether the government will sell it.

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson, who has urged the government not to sell the crossing, says it is difficult to read what its intentions are based on the barrier scheme.

He said: “Any system which can alleviate congestion is welcome, but it would not change my ultimate goal of the tolls being scrapped completely.”