The Welsh Affairs Select Committee will look at how tolls on the bridges affect the Welsh economy, the amount of cash that is spent on maintaining the bridges, their future when they return to public ownership and at the level of the tolls, payment methods, the impact of the tolls on tourism and the condition of the bridges.
This is welcome news, as back in June, Plaid AM Chris Franks, revealed that the private company that operated the Severn Toll Bridges had raised almost £226m over the past three years – yet barely £15m had been spent on essential maintenance on the original crossings damaged cables - should not come as much of a surprise to many people. The Severn Crossings Tolls have been a valuable cash cow for many years, effectively gifted by the then Conservative Government to the concession holders.
The bridge tolls have become in recent years an effective a tax on jobs, a tax on commuters, a tax on growth and tax on business in the south of Wales. Plaid Cymru's South Wales Central AM Chris Franks obtained the figures under the Freedom of Information Act, which showed significant difference between the large amounts of money raised by Severn River Crossing plc from the toll, and the relatively small amount spent on treating the damage to the cables on the old crossing (M48).
Since 2006, some £15m has been spent on main cable work on the first Severn Crossing. The Highways Agency suggests that another £5.8m of repairs will take place over the next five years. Some £225,733,000 has been collected in bridge toll revenue since 2006. people may well wonder if they are going to get saddled with major work to maintain the bridges after the toll profits have been siphoned off by the concessionary company when the bridges are finally returned to public ownership in 2016 or 2017.
The Committee will take evidence from the Severn River Crossing Plc, who run the M48 and M4 bridges, government ministers, business representatives in Wales and others. Written submissions on the topic need to be in by September 3, with evidence to be heard in public in October and November. For information on how to take part email: email@example.com - the committee hopes to report back with recommendations for the government by the end of 2010.
Naturally our local labour MPs are behind the enquiry, which is what you would expect - Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East (and a member of the committee) has welcomed the move, saying that the tolls could be lowered for people living in the surrounding area: “Like the Dartford crossing I can't see why you shouldn't be able to get a concession for those within a certain postcode area.”
A good call from an opposition MP you might think, the problem is that despite being relatively comfortably in Government for many years, this is the way our local Labour MPs and AM's have (and in the case of the local Labour AM's are still) playing it. Unfortunately, as lest we forget, New Labour (under Tony Blair and then Gordon 'Houdini' Brown) were firmly in power from 1997 until 2010 so why did they not do something about the Severn bridge tolls then?