The House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee has held an extra session with the transport minister, Stephen Hammond, to discuss management of the Severn crossing tolls post-2015, and has reinforced the key message from FTA that these tolls are an active barrier to organisations, particularly in logistics, who wish to do business in Wales.
The minister has reiterated the view that the government will look to continue tolling, with a seeming preference for maintaining the tolls at the current prohibitive levels; once the construction debt is paid the crossings revert back to government ownership in 2018. At his previous session with the Committee, the minister had indicated that there were debts secured against toll revenues that must be repaid – a figure currently believed to be around £88 million. He was also keen to repeat that no decisions have been taken at a ministerial level on the future of the tolls and that no cost/benefit assessment of potential future toll rates has yet been undertaken.
Speaking after the session, FTA’s Policy Manager for Wales, Ian Gallagher, said:
"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."