End of the Road for Tolls?There is real possibility of ending the Severn tolls burden forthe first time in over half a century.The Severn Bridges Act 1992 set out framework to award aprivate contract to build a much needed second Severncrossing. Severn River Crossings built the bridge with the powerto charge tolls until revenue of £1.029 billion is raised or for amaximum of 35 years. Wales has paid extortionate annuallyincreasing tolls since.The debt is almost paid, the concession contract is coming toan end. In the next year the crossings will return to publicownership. Legal power to levy charges ends with the contact.The Act is clear and tolls must cease.Government have other plans “to recoup its own costs from theconstruction” by extending the tolling period. To this end a trioof Tories turned up in Newport promoting alternative facts onthe debt and maintenance costs of the crossings.Like clouds and wind without rain they arrived with promises toreduce the tolls. They touted Government’s feeble argumentthat maintenance and operational costs of the bridge should bepaid for by Wales once again.The Crossings have an estimated annual running cost of £15m.As with any other road belonging to the Department forTransport maintenance costs are unavoidable. Road usersalready cover these maintenance costs with road tax. Furthertolls amount to unreasonable and duplicate charges
Government motivations must be examined. If implementedpurely to cover costs a toll of £1.50 on each vehicle would allowthe crossing to remain self-financing. Government’s proposedreduced charge is £3.The UK Government also argue they need to recover £63million of construction costs. The Treasury have more thanrecouped their costs from Wales. The Crossings have generatedover £154m in VAT receipts for the treasury since 2003. Newtoll charges are not about debt recovery they are about prot.MPs raised concerns over the arbitrary nature of the £3proposal in a debate on the future of the Crossings last week.The Transport Minister failed when questioned to give abreakdown of the £3. He said “the £3 cost brings the chargemuch more closely into line with the Humber estuary.”It is welcome news that the Minister makes parallels betweenthe Severn and Humber Crossings. In 2011 Government wroteo> £150m of debt owed by the Humber crossing. Yet theycontinue to pursue an amount less than half of that from Walesdespite already being more than compensated through taxes. IfWales is to be charged in line with Humber Wales must havethe same deal as Humber.Ministers speak only of costs, debts and obligations. What theyare missing is the compelling economic case for abolishingtolls. They are a barrier to economic growth and investment. Adisincentive for the best employees and nancially cripplingsmall and @edgling business. £107 million would be unlockedfor the South Wales economy if this deterrent were removed.Instead of looking for ways to future proof the Welsh economypost Brexit Government are looking for ways to secure theCrossing as a future cash cow. When legal authority to chargetolls ends under the Severn Bridges Act Government must re-establish a legal right to charge tolls. They plan to do this usingthe Transport Act 2000 which will “change the legal status ofthe payment…from a toll to a road user charge”.Road user charges exist. Road tax. There must be noduplication of charges for all those who use the Severn Bridges.