I was reading a piece in the Western Mail (20th May 2011) on the Severn Bridge and the fact that the Welsh Affairs committee had received no hint or suggestion that tolls will fall on the Severn Crossing when it enters public ownership. Knowing the Tories this should come as no surprise although the Welsh Affairs Select Committee (currently chaired by the Monmouth MP David Davies) had recommended that recommended (back in December 2010) that the toll could be as low as £1.50 in 2017 when ownership of the Severn Crossings reverts from Severn River Crossing PLC back to public ownership in 2016 or 2017 (or perhaps 2018).
It's no secret that Plaid would like to see the 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.
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. With control over the bridges devolved, Plaid suggests reducing 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.
The bridge tolls are literally an extra tax on jobs, on Welsh people going to work and on business in the south of Wales. The Western Mail story also drew attention to the fact that forthcoming work on the inside lane on both eastbound and westbound will be carried out this summer. Work on the eastbound carriageway is due to take place between June 9th and July 14th. Resurfacing will be carried out on the westbound route between September 6th and October 11th. I was thinking yet more joy for bridge users, when I caught sight of the following:
Philip Hammond, the Transport Minister, said he could not give any indication that the toll would reduce, but he did say it may no longer be feasible to only pay in just one direction.
He said: “The amount of truck drivers that tell me they go in one way and go out another purely based on the toll tells me that from the Treasury's point of view an income is being lost an in another way is an unfairness that could be addressed as we go forward.”
Western Mail (20.05.2011)
Hang on a moment, does that mean what I think it means, in that they are now seriously thinking about charging both ways across both the bridges?