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AMs back bid to scrap bridge tolls.

Byline: martin shipton Chief Reporter martin.shipton@walesonline.co.uk

MEMBERS of the National Assembly have voted almost unanimously to support the abolition of Severn Bridge tolls when the two crossings become publicly owned.

But the vote of 45 to 0 with one abstention is purely symbolic, with the UK Government apparently determined to have tolls rather than abolish them.

The bridges are currently owned and maintained by a private company, and tolls are due to be scrapped when a revenue target is reached, possibly next autumn.

Proposing the motion to scrap tolls, Ukip AM Mark Reckless said: "The Severn tolls hold back the Welsh economy, discourage tourism and unnecessarily divide Wales from England. There is PS90m of direct cost which the tolls take in every year and the Welsh Government has further estimated the cost of tolls to Wales as at least PS107m annually. We believe the costs of paying the highest UK toll are likely to be far higher when all lost opportunities and indirect effects are taken into account."

Mr Reckless said for 2015 overall revenue from the tolls was more than PS90m, while it had been suggested that maintenance costs amounted to between PS13m and PS15m. In fact such a figure was the whole operational costs, including that of collecting the tolls. The maintenance costs amounted to PS6m. As a proportion of the PS6.60 toll for a car, they equated to 44p.

Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd said removing tolls from the bridges was vital for the South Wales economy, which needs every boost available. There was an inconsistency in the fact that a new bridge built at Briton Ferry attracted no tolls, while the Severn Bridges continue to do so.

Dr Lloyd said tolls had been abolished on bridges to the Isle of Skye in Scotland and across the Humber in England, and it would be right to abolish tolls in Wales.

Labour AM Lee Waters said that abolishing tolls would increase traffic flows by between 12.5% and 25% and make it even harder for the Welsh Government to achieve its carbon reduction targets - 80% by 2050 and 40% by 2020.

Mr Waters said it was important to encourage people out of cars on to public transport. The Brexit vote had created a funding problem for the proposed South Wales Metro, which would lose PS21m a year from the EU which had earlier been committed. Using toll revenue to help fund the Metro would be an appropriate solution.

Economy Minister Ken Skates said: "Many individuals who run and own businesses in Wales are concerned at the high cost of the Severn Crossings toll. They feel it represents a barrier to business activity across the bridge."

The UK Government, which has said it will not devolve responsibility for the bridges, is to consult on future tolling.

CAPTION(S):

The Severn Bridges are currently owned and maintained by a private company BEN BIRCHALL

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 17, 2016
Words:488
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