QUESTION: What will happen to the tolls?
The House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee are backing the Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) emphasis on the economic importance of the Severn crossing tolls.
In an extra session with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond yesterday, the Committee discussed toll management post-2015.
They reinforced the FTA’s message that the tolls are an active barrier to organisations, particularly in logistics, that wish to do business in Wales.
Mr Hammond reiterated the view that the government will look to continue tolling, with a seeming preference for maintaining the tolls at the current prohibitive levels.
This route would see the tolls revert back to government ownership in 2018, once the construction debt is paid off.
At his previous session with the Committee, the Minister had indicated there were debts – believed to be around £88million – secured against toll revenues that must be repaid.
He also reemphasised that no ministerial decisions have been taken on the tolls’ future and that no cost/benefit assessment of potential future toll rates has been undertaken.
Ian Gallagher, Policy Manager for Wales at the FTA, said after the session: “Even if we take at face value this new package of debt and the government’s plan for reclaiming the money, talk of another few years of tolls at their current levels will be met with fear and anger in boardrooms across Wales and south west England.
“FTA members individually pay thousands of pounds each year in tolls, and collectively they pay millions.
“It is extremely hard for anyone to justify how this can continue once the initial debt – which the tolls were designed to pay – is serviced.
“I am pleased that the Welsh Affairs Committee is taking this issue as seriously as the businesses compelled to pay the tolls are.
“We will be working with them and their counterparts in the National Assembly to ensure that this huge debt burden is lifted, and the tolls reduced to a level that covers ongoing costs only, once the bridges return to public ownership.”
Image courtesy of Dogfael, with thanks.