Severn Bridge to start charging for both directions?

By Aaron Kendall   |   Assistant Editor   |
Wednesday 29th July 2015 8:16 am
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SEVERN Bridge tolls could be charged in both directions under plans being considered by the Secretary of State for Transport Andrew Jones.

Discussed at a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday 21st July, Mr Jones revealed plans to overhaul the way tolls are collected, and whether they could then be charged at both ends of the crossings.

“The opportunities presented by technology are significant, and it can make an enormous difference,” said Mr Jones.

“I am also considering whether it could be made collectable both ways; technology frees up opportunity, and I think that it would prove popular.

“I have started to consider whether we can take lessons from other free-flow schemes in our country, notably the DART tag scheme, which has made a significant time saving for commuters on the Dartford crossing.

“We are considering whether that could be used on the Severn.”

Barriers have been removed at the Dartford crossing and replaced with number plate recognition technology, allowing drivers to pay

by phone or

text message.

The Government has started planning for a change to public ownership for the Severn crossings, which is expected to happen in 2018, depending on road usage.

As part of the plans to build the bridges, it was agreed that once a total income figure had been reached – £1.029 billion at 1989 prices – the bridges would be run by the government, this is expected to be reached in 2018.

Confirmation has been given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, that VAT would be cut from the tolls under public ownership.

However, a number of groups and politicians are calling for more action to either scrap the tolls completely or significantly reduce costs.

Monmouth MP David Davies said: “The Government should realise that members of all parties from constituencies throughout south Wales do not consider the existing situation to be fair.

“Although we welcome the fact that the Government will bring the bridges back into public ownership and remove the VAT, I speak for many when I say that is simply not enough.

“We are looking for more than has so far been on offer.”

Mr Davies described the tolls as a “big dent in people’s wage packets” and argued a toll of about one third of the existing level would be sufficient to cover ongoing maintenance costs for both structures.

“The Government wants to carry on tolling in order to recoup £88 million which was spent on unexpected repairs to the old crossing,” he said.

“However, I believe it has received around £140 million above what was expected in taxes from VAT and the industrial buildings allowance.

“I have put the figures on record to the Minister and if I am wrong, he is welcome to correct me. But if I am right, then the Government has received far more than it has lost and the tolls should come down faster.”

VAT paid by bridge users on the tolls charged has been revealed at £154.2 million between 2003 and 2014.

More than 70,000 vehicles use the crossing each day and Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, said: “We pay the absolute highest tolls in the UK on the Severn bridges.

“There is now a real need for clarity from the Government on the profits, operating costs and so on, and on where we are going in future.

“We urgently require some kind of strategy for the bridges, because we have only just over two years to go until they return to public ownership. Since the second bridge opened in 1996, the tolls have increased 19 times because of the inflexibility of the concession.

“This Government have done extremely well out of the bridges; they have been a cash cow.

“We are now paying £6.50 for a car, £13.10 for a van and £19.60 for coaches and lorries.

“By comparison, the undiscounted price of a single journey for a car at the Dartford crossing is £2.50, and for the Mersey tunnels it is £1.70. The Humber bridge currently has undiscounted tolls of £1.50 for cars, £4 for medium-sized vehicles and £12 for heavy goods vehicles.

“The Government’s assertion that they might keep on tolling rather than reduce the high tolls after the concession ends – we know that although the debt will be £88 million, the Government have already recouped £154 million in VAT – response will not go down well.

“I would appreciate it if the Government reconsidered reducing the tolls further.”

Mr Jones said: “Our intention is to continue tolling after the projected end of the concession in 2018 simply to recover the costs that have been incurred in relation to the crossings that fall outside the agreement.

“The current projection of those costs stands at £88 million. We have not made any decisions about the operation and tolling arrangements for the crossings once the current regime ends.”

Mr Jones did rule out giving the Welsh Government control of the bridges, adding: “I have absolutely no plan whatsoever to change ownership but I do have every intention to work together on future operation of the crossings.”

“We are considering whether that could be used on the Severn. I am also considering whether it could be made collectable both ways; technology frees up opportunity, and I think that it would prove popular.”

In the pre-general election budget, it was announced that the VAT charged on tolls would be cut once the bridges changed to public ownership.

Monmouth MP David Davies asked how much VAT had been paid by bridge users on the tolls charged which has been revealed as £154.2 million between 2003 and 2014.

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