A poorly conceived piece of legislation is costing users of the Severn Bridge dearly according to a report out today commissioned by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee (WASC). The Freight Transport Association (FTA) had provided both written and verbal evidence to the WASC; who were engaged in an inquiry into what FTA has always labeled "gratuitous tolls" on the Severn Crossings.
In October the leading trade body, along with Denise Lovering of south Wales-based Glenside Commercials, gave a clear steer to the Committee on how the logistics sector was suffering from tolls to cross the M4 and M48; and are subsequently pleased to see that this has been acknowledged in the final report.
Ian Gallagher, FTA’s Policy Manager for Wales, said:
"This report represents a significant step forward in acknowledging the damage done to some business sectors – especially those in Wales – of successive and relentless price increases on the Severn Tolls, which is after all is a vital trade corridor".
"The findings clearly show that logistics was one of several sectors that have been particularly hammered by some of the highest toll prices in the UK, and we agree with the Committee in expressing disappointment that the tolls will not be frozen in 2011. It is clear that Government should take a long hard look at the failure of the 1992 Act which clearly places all the trump cards with the Concessionaire, Severn River Crossing PLC (SRC). The short-sighted agreement with SRC does not bind them to any action that benefits their customers; and it is businesses such as logistics that are left to deal with the result."
"The report gives further support to our suspicion that having the highest tolls in the UK will certainly have made businesses think twice before investing in Wales. This is a serious problem for the economy and we welcome further analysis if it helps build the case for wholesale reform of the current system."
The report also gives further support to FTA position that once the Bridges reverts back to Public ownership in 2017 Government should look to reduce the cost of the toll to a level which would provide for maintenance of the bridges only.
"We are perhaps most pleased that the Committee agrees with FTA’s view that the Bridge toll should be reduced to a responsible level post 2017 which will help business in South Wales. It is also important that flexibility is built into the payment structure and Governments both in Cardiff and Westminster should resist the urge to look at the Bridges as a ‘Cash Cow’. Business simply cannot withstand it."
The Committee also highlights the antiquated payment structure inherent on the bridge, and the negative impact this has had on the international perception of Wales, with Credit Card payments only finally introduced over the last couple of months in time for October’s Ryder Cup. FTA recommended that a more modern payment method should be implemented to reduce congestion and encourage free-flowing traffic.
"It is clear from the evidence given by SRC PLC that investing in technology that would speed up and offer flexibility is unlikely given the relatively short time left before the bridge reverts back to public ownership. However I am pleased to see that the Committee agree with the FTA view that Central Government should seriously consider in looking to invest in free flow technology now and not wait until 2017. If the Government believes that the barriers are damaging the international view of Wales, then they will surely continue to do so over the next seven years."