English taxes to fund free Severn bridge tolls

By Owain Banfield in Transport

MORE details have emerged about the return of the Severn Crossings to public ownership after it was announced last week that the tolls will be abolished at the end of next year.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns made the announcement on Friday (21st July), that tolls for both Severn Crossings will be removed at the end of 2018.

The bridges are due to come back into public ownership in early 2018, after the current concession ends. Under current proposals, at this point the tolls will reduce to £3 for cars, minibuses and vans, and £10 for lorries.

Following this, at the end of 2018 the tolls will be abolished altogether. The crossings will be run by Highways England, and ongoing maintenance will be covered by English taxation.

The announcement confirms a pledge by Prime Minister Theresa May made during the General Election campaign to scrap the tolls.

The pledge came as a surprise to some, as a Government consultation document on the Severn Crossing tolls released in January 2017 had stated that the Government was not proposing the removal of the tolls altogether. The consolation document stated that it had long been Government policy that the costs of the crossings “should be paid for by the users that benefit, rather than the taxpayer.”

This policy has now shifted, and the Beacon can confirm that under current plans, taxation from England will cover the ongoing maintenance of the crossings after tolls are abolished. This is because when the crossings revert back to public ownership in 2018, they will be run by Highways England. A department for Transport spokesperson confirmed: “It is our intention that annual funding needs will be considered as part of the same process as for other major roads in England.

“From 2020-21 the UK Government guarantees that all revenue raised from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) in England will be allocated to a new Roads Fund, and invested directly back into the roads network.”

Costs that will need to be met include the estimated £15 million annual cost to operate and maintain the crossings, the £63 million spent throughout the concession for fixing latent defects, and the resurfacing of the Severn Bridge that will cost in the region of £12 million.

It is thought that the short period of tolling during public ownership will go towards meeting these costs.

A Department for Transport spokesperson explained that “with the revenue from tolling during this brief period in public ownership, we judge that subsequent costs should be manageable.”

It is estimated that the scrapping of the tolls will boost the economy of South Wales by around £100 million, and save the average motorist £1,400 per year.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said on Friday: “The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK Government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy.

“By ending tolls for the 25 million annual journeys between two nations we will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of South Wales and the South West of England.”

A Welsh Government report in 2012 stated that the “tolls effectively increase the cost of doing business in South Wales.”

Ian Gallagher, Head of Policy for South West and Wales Freight Transport Association welcomed the news.

He said: “Goods vehicle operators will be applauding this decision, a decision which will allow them to reinvest more than £43 million annually collected at the booths - money which can now be reinvested in job creation and improving fleets.”

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