MONMOUTHSHIRE became a political battleground today (Tuesday 16th May) as both the Labour Party and Conservative Party announced plans to abolish the Severn Bridge tolls if elected.
The Labour Manifesto, released officially in its finished form this morning, states “we will work with the Welsh Government to scrap the tolls on the Severn Bridge.” Elsewhere, in a speech today Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to scrap tolls for all vehicles using the crossings if elected.
Earlier this year, the government had announced plans to reduce tolls to £3 for cars, small buses and vans, and £10 for lorries and coaches. But following these general election pledges by both the Conservatives and Labour, the tolls now look to be abolished completely when the Severn Crossings return to public ownership in late 2017 or early 2018.
The National Assembly for Wales unanimously supports the removal of tolls, calling the tolls an “unfair tax on the economy, people and communities of South Wales.” It is thought the removal of the tolls may boost the local economy by as much as £100 million.
Announcing the election pledge, Theresa May said: “By abolishing tolls for 25 million annual journeys between two nations we will strengthen the links between communities. This will drive economic growth right across the country helping key economic centres in Cardiff, Bath, Bristol and Newport.
“By significantly reducing the cost of doing business between Wales and England, the Conservatives continue to deliver on improving the economic prospects of ordinary working people.”
But Welsh Labour candidate for Newport East Jessica Morden deemed it a “cynical election announcement.”
She said: “As MP for Newport East, I have been campaigning for years, with the support of Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour colleagues in the Assembly, to get the Tory UK Government to take action on tolls and relieve the huge burden they place on local residents and businesses.
“Welsh Labour is committed to scrapping tolls, and will do so in government. The Tories may claim that they’ll axe tolls now, but as we know from bitter experience, the claims they make at election time are not worth the paper they’re written on.”
David Davies, the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Monmouth, said: “I have long campaigned for the tolls to be scrapped and today’s announcement is fantastic news for the local economy.
“It shows Theresa May’s Conservatives are not a London-based party. We are a party for the whole of the UK and Wales will benefit enormously if the Conservatives are re-elected.”
Highways England will assume responsibility when the two Severn Crossings return to public ownership. The ongoing maintenance cost has been estimated to be around £7 million a year.