COMMONS

Welsh Affairs Committee publishes report on Severn Crossings Toll

22 December 2010

The Welsh Affairs Committee has published its report on the Severn Crossings Toll. In the report, the Committee considers the impact of the Severn Crossings Toll on the economy of South Wales and beyond.

The Severn Crossings are a vital link for the people and business located in South Wales and beyond. We are very concerned by anecdotal reports that the level of the toll has put some people off investing in Wales and more hard evidence must be gathered about their economic implications.

In the Committee's view, while the Crossings, currently managed by Severn River Crossings Plc, bring many valuable benefits including reduced journey times and improved access to customers and suppliers, there is a perception that the high cost of the toll represents a barrier to business. The Committee found that much evidence about the toll’s impact is anecdotal and today's report recommends that empirical evidence should be gathered about the economic impact of the toll on both sides of the border.

David T.C. Davies MP, Chair of the Committee said:

"The Severn Crossings are a vital link for the people and business located in South Wales and beyond. We are very concerned by anecdotal reports that the level of the toll has put some people off investing in Wales and more hard evidence must be gathered about their economic impact."

The report is also critical that the inflexibility of the Severn Crossings Act does not allow the toll to be reduced without the taxpayer bearing the cost and is disappointed that it has not proved possible for the Toll to be frozen for 2011. The report concludes that the end of the concession projected for 2017, provides an opportunity to re-examine the pricing policy for the Severn Crossings. The Committee argues that once the bridge returns to public ownership and its current debt is paid off, the cost of maintenance and toll operation will be a fraction of the current monies raised by the toll charges and concludes that there is a strong case for significantly reducing the cost of the toll.

The report also advocates that there must continue to be a close working relationship between the Department for Transport and the Welsh Assembly Government over the future strategy for the Severn Crossings.

"Unfortunately, due to the inflexible provisions of the 1992 Severn Crossings Act, neither the Government nor Severn Crossings Plc is able to freeze or reduce the toll without incurring significant costs. The performance of Severn River Crossings Plc in introducing modern payment technology has been pretty haphazard and, in all likelihood, would not have happened at all if Wales had not hosted the Ryder Cup this year. The antiquated payment system in place until then had given visitors to Wales a poor first impression of the country.

However, the ability to pay the toll with credit or debit cards is only a start. The Government should invest now in free-flow payment technology without delay and recoup the cost when the Crossings transfer to public ownership at the end of the concession period in or around 2017.

At the same time, tolling prices should be reduced and concessions for those who depend on the crossings for their livelihood could be introduced. The Government must not be tempted to use the toll as a convenient "cash cow"."

Image: PA

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