Wales politics

Severn bridges: 'Toll cut' if Wales controls crossings says Carwyn Jones

Severn bridge
Image caption The Severn crossings are used by 80,000 vehicles a day

Tolls on the Severn bridges would be reduced if the Welsh government took control of them, the first minister says.

Carwyn Jones said it is unfair Welsh people are charged to enter their country, with tolls set in London.

The bridges are run by a private company but the Welsh government wants to take control when they return to public ownership in about 2018.

The UK government said it had not made a decision about the bridges' future.

Operated by private company Severn River Crossings Plc, the M4 and M48 bridges over the Severn are used by about 80,000 vehicles every day.

The company's concession will end and the bridges return to the UK government when takings from the tolls reach £996m at 1989 prices, estimated to happen in about 2018.

Mr Jones said the Welsh government was seeking a "fair deal" with the UK government as to how to deal with the future of the bridges.

"It cannot be right the people of Wales are charged to come into their own country - paying a toll set in London, in toll booths that are actually in Wales," he said.

"We think the toll could be reduced - it couldn't be eliminated, that would mean we were left with an enormous hole in our budget.

"But we would look to see if there could be greater flexibility and scope to reduce the toll and by how much.

"Any surplus we would use on upgrading the rest of the M4."

'Conversations continue'

It costs £6.20 to take a car over the M4 and M48 bridges from England to Wales. Driving into England is free. The tolls for vans and minibuses is £12.40 and for lorries and coaches is £18.60.

A report for the Welsh government last year said abolishing the tolls would increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day.

It found businesses and commuters spend £80m a year crossing the bridges.

However, sustainable transport group Sustrans warned that a toll cut would lead to more congestion and pollution in south Wales.

"The Welsh economy is best served by improving public transport into the nation, and delivering a transport system that tackles poverty and social injustice in Wales," said policy adviser Matt Hemsley.

"The Severn crossing tolls could be used to provide an ongoing fund to improve public transport, cycling and walking in Wales - including the South Wales Metro - which will help more Welsh people to access jobs and education without having to run a car."

The UK Department for Transport said it meets the Welsh government regularly and has discussed the future of the crossing on a number of occasions.

"These conversations will continue," a spokesman added.

"The debt that remains outstanding at the end of the private concession must be recovered.

"This has been the case since 1992 and the legislation is clear that the tolls can only be used for the purpose of paying the costs of building, maintaining and operating the bridge.

"We are not proposing any changes and have not taken any decisions on the future of the crossing."

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