HGV operators using the Severn crossing, already the most expensive toll in the UK, will be forced to pay an extra 80p in the New Year, which could be the kiss of death for those companies that rely on this vital trade corridor. The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has been very vocal in its campaign to freeze what it has labelled ‘gratuitous and cynical’ tolls hikes, but had been encouraged by the decision to look more closely at the damaging and undeniable impact these tolls have on businesses, on both sides of the river.
Ian Gallagher, FTA’s Policy Manager for Wales, said:
"Mike Penning’s announcement has come as a massive body blow to the industry which will be felt across Wales and the south west of England. The decision to charge so much for vehicles that have to use the bridge is not only irresponsible, when companies are struggling in tough trading conditions, it could be the last straw.
"Earlier in the week we were buoyed by comments from the Government, Welsh Affairs Select Committee and Severn River Crossings PLC that tolls could be reduced when the debt is repaid and in public hands in 2017. Now we are left wondering if there will be a haulage industry left by 2017."
The tolls already cost companies many thousands of pounds a month; there are genuine fears that such an unexpected and significant price hike could be unsustainable and force companies to consider redundancies and even insolvencies.
"This only confirms how wrong the formula used to calculate the tolls really is. How Severn River Crossing PLC (SRC) and Government can justify £11.50 for a van up to 3.5 tonnes and £17.20 for goods vehicles in excess of 3.5 tonnes beggars belief. Surely at the very least we should have seen a freeze in tolls until the outcome of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and Welsh Assembly Government’s study are known."
Denise Lovering of Glenside Commercials Ltd, a company operating on both sides of the Severn, said:
"This is the wrong message for both the Government and SRC to send out at this time. We are being told that it will be at least 2017 before the bridge is reverted back to the state, if things are allowed to carry on, then by that time could see the toll for an HGV rising to well over £20.
"I am sure that at the time the Severn Bridges Act was written no-one in their right mind envisaged that it would cost so much to cross the Severn. The Act needs amending, and the sooner the better."