The January 2016 increase makes the Severn Bridge toll one of the most expensive per kilometre; this hinders economic growth and punishes commuters, businesses and visitors. The tolls are quite simply a tax on jobs, a tax on businesses and a tax on commuters.
In 1966, it cost 12p per car to cross the bridge (around £2 pound in today’s money) it now costs £6.60 per car. The concession holders have been fleecing us for as much as they can get for as long as they can with little but warm words from Westminster to restrain or regulate them. On the matter of the Severn Bridge tolls over the years Westminster has simply failed.
We used to hope that the tolls would eventually be removed, possibly when the concession came to an end - currently the franchise should end in 2018. However, in December 2014, the UK Government admitted that the tolls could be maintained for potentially for another NINE years (potentially until 2027) to recoup its costs on the Severn Bridge crossings after they return to public ownership, according to information obtained by Plaid Cymru.
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act by Plaid, the UK Highways Agency, said:
“Severn River Crossing (SRC) is entitled to collect a defined sum from the tolls (£1,028.9m in July 1989 prices) and the current forecasts indicate that this sum will be recouped in 2018.
“After this time, the crossings will be handed back to the Government. No decisions have been made regarding the future of the Severn bridges. From this point onwards, government has the right to recoup its own costs from the construction, maintenance and management of the bridge until 2027. This would be for costs that fall outside of the scope of the current concession for example costs incurred for cable corrosion work.
“Based on a continuation of current arrangements it is expected to take 1-2 years to recover this money, however, the exact nature of that regime has yet to be determined.”
The Highways Agency has listed spending on work on main cable corrosion on the first Severn crossing as £5,272,000 between 2010-11 and 2014-15. Then in the following three financial years the project spending costs will be another £4,767,000 from next April through to 2017-18.
Back in 2012, Plaid Cymru submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Transport seeking details of any correspondence between it and the Welsh Government on the level of tolls since May 2011, the last Assembly elections. In its response the Department of Transport merely listed emails between the Highways Agency and the Welsh Government advising of planned increases in tolls for 2012 and 2013. An FOI request revealed that there was no other correspondence between the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government.
In 2012 a report for the Welsh government suggested that 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.
In October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls which has recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. This study of 122 businesses was commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area.
|Severn Bridge Tolls since 1976|
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 2010 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.
The general political consensus to do something about the tolls is nice but somewhat vague on the details. Based on their record in at Westminster I would not hold my breath in anticipation of any action on the Severn Bridge tolls. Labour (New and not so New) in power at Westminster from 1997 to 2010 did nothing. The Conservative and Liberal Democratic Coalition when in power at Westminster from 2010 to 2015 did nothing. Likewise the now unrestrained Conservative Party currently in power at Westminster will also probably do nothing
In 2018 the franchise will revert back to Westminster and the Department for Transport - what concerns me is that this income may prove too useful to let go. The ominous silence from the Westminster on the fate of the tolls should concern to us all of us. I think that it is perfectly reasonable for the Department For Transport (and the Westminster Government) to clearly state what it intentions in relation to the Severn Bridge tolls.
Plaid Cymru wants the transfer of powers (to Wales) and the tolls initially reduced to £2, something that could have a considerable impact on businesses and the economy. For simple clarity the ownership of the Severn bridges should be transferred to the National Assembly in 2018, and that decision needs to be made sooner rather than later and preparations for the transfer need to begin as soon as possible.