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Severn tolls annoucnement 'a deflection'.

Byline: david williamson Political editor david.williamson@walesonline.co.uk

THE UK Government's decdavid williamson ision to confirm today that the Severn tolls will be scrapped next year has been condemned as an attempt to deflect attention from the axing of plans to electrify the Great Western route from Cardiff to Swansea.

The Conservatives announced in May that the tolls would go in a move intended to reduce the cost of doing business between Wales and England.

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns will confirm that the tolls will end next year, when the crossings are due to return to public ownership.

The Wales Office expects the removal of the charges to boost the South Wales economy by around PS100m a year.

However, it has not named a specific date for when in 2018 the tolls will be paid for the last time.

Plaid Cymru transport spokesman Jonathan Edwards attacked the Wales Office's decision to recommit to the pledge made ahead of the June election, claiming it was part of a "deflection strategy".

He said: "Clearly this is just the Wales Office pressing the panic button and trying to move the agenda onto something else but I don't think the people are going to forget the breaking of this promise that's been made on numerous occasions."

Mr Edwards also insisted there was a debate to be had about who should own the crossings, which are due to become the responsibility of Highways England.

He said: "There's a phrase: When in a hole stop digging - and I think people will see the rehash of this announcement as the cynical manoeuvre that it is and it will probably end up doing more damage to the British Government in people's eyes in Wales. The real debate will continue about the ownership of those bridges.

"Clearly, my position is that the ownership of the main supply route into the Welsh economy has to [rest with] the Welsh Government."

Turning his guns on the Wales Office for not ensuring that the electrification to Swansea went ahead, he said: "The question does come: What is the purpose of the Wales Office within the British Government... It clearly has no influence over the British Government as a whole."

However, Welsh Secretary Mr Cairns said: "The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK Government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy. By ending tolls for the 25 million annual journeys between two nations we will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of south Wales and the south west of England.

"I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically. Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business.

"The decision we have taken today is right for Wales' future prosperity and I am sure that it will be welcomed by industry and motorists alike."

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 21, 2017
Words:499
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