Plaid Cymru has stated that it would significantly reduce tolls on the Severn crossings once in Government. Plaid would initiate discussions immediately for a transfer of powers in order to reduce the tolls on the bridges, which are currently £5.70 per car, £11.50 per van and £17.20 per lorry and have a considerable impact on Welsh businesses and the Welsh economy.
Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The Professor's study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport.
Under the current set-up, once the cost of the Second Severn Crossing is paid off (by 2016 or 2017) the revenue stream will revert straight to Treasury coffers in Westminster. The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses found the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area. While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the study found that transport, construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness.
A Plaid Cymru government would view it as essential that control, or at least shared control, over the operation of the bridge be devolved to the Welsh government at the earliest opportunity in order to ensure that action could be taken to significantly reduce the tolls. And would use any money raised by the tolls for maintenance of the bridges and the upgrading of Welsh infrastructure and not for private profit.
At the moment the operation of the bridge is in the hands of a private company (Severn River Crossing PLC) with the contract likely to end in 2017 at which point the bridge will revert to the Department for Transport in London. The private company that runs the Severn Toll Bridges managed to raise around 226m over the three years (up to June 2010) yet barely spent £15m on essential maintenance on the original crossing's damaged cables.
That the bridge tolls have been used used as little more than a cash cow, to fleece bridge user should come as not much of a surprise to many people.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 argues that control, or shared control, over the bridge should be devolved to the Welsh government and that negotiations to this end should start immediately to ensure that the transfer is in place by 2017. And Plaid is committed to significantly reducing the tolls on the Severn Bridges to under £2 per car and recognises that the high cost of the tolls is a serious matter of concern for the people of Wales because of the impact it has on Welsh businesses, particularly those in freight and logistics, and on people visiting Wales.
The bridges are of such vital importance to Wales it is only right that control, or at least shared control, over them is in the hands of the Welsh people. A Plaid Cymru government would immediately initiate discussions to bring about the devolution of control, or shared control, over the bridges to the Wales.
With control over the bridges, Plaid would significantly reduce the cost of the tolls to under £2 a car and would also introduce new collection techniques so that people crossing the bridge would have an alternative to paying by cash. Any profit that is made will be used to maintain the bridges and upgrade Welsh infrastructure.