Well there you have it or perhaps not not? Any changes in the running of the Severn bridges must benefit motorists from both Wales and England, a UK Westminster government minister has warned. The Welsh government has indicated that it would like to take ownership of the two Severn Bridges when they come back into public ownership in 2018. By then it is expected that Severn River Crossings plc will have milked its cash cow to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds. Meanwhile in Cardiff, Carwyn Jones has said any money left over from tolls could go towards upgrading the existing M4 (in Wales) and Westminster Transport Minister Stephen Hammond has said that no decisions (one way or the other) have been made over ownership or tolls.
While the Severn Bridges and the tolls may be out or sight and out of mind to Westminster ministers - perhaps as our interests and our county are peripheral to the Westminster mindset – that does not help us very much. This sorry state of affairs may be a result of abandoning future planning to the ‘free market’ if nothing else it is a clear indication that the concept of forward planning and taking the long view no longer fits into the Westminster worldview. Differences of opinion between Wales and Westminster are not new, what makes this latest spat more ironic is that the Welsh Conservatives have nailed their colours to the mast by calling for control of the Severn Bridges to reside in the hands of the Welsh people.
Last year a report for the Welsh government suggestedthat abolishing the tolls would increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day – and that businesses and commuters forked out around £ 80 million pounds a year crossing the Severn bridges. Studies into the impact of the Severn Bridge Tolls on our economy are nothing new. Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economicstudy of the Severn Bridge tolls which has recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. 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, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area.
While noting that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the 2010 study found that transport; construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness. The 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 stitch up (sorry set-up), once the cost of the Second Severn Crossing is paid off less on-going maintenance costs (possibly by 2018) then that handy revenue stream will revert to Treasury coffers in Westminster.