For whom the summit tolls: who pays for better roads?

 

As summits go, the one at Magor services got slightly less media attention than the one hosted by David Cameron in Northern Ireland.

But if you use the M4 regularly, for business or pleasure (if that's possible), then the outcome of the Magor summit will be of interest.

Of course, it may have been a piece of political theatre scheduled ahead of good news on the subject in Chancellor George Osborne's spending review statement next week.

It's now more than 18 months since Mr Osborne promised to work with the Welsh government to improve the M4. It's a policy so popular the Treasury announced it again in this year's budget statement.

The Tories present at yesterday's summit hope they're pushing at an open Treasury door. There remain questions over how any improvements would be funded. Welsh ministers rejected a reported (Mr Osborne said "mis-reported") suggestion that a relief road be funded by tolls.

Today, MPs on the Welsh affairs committee had a chance to grill UK Transport Minister Stephen Hammond on progress. He chose his words very carefully, telling them: "The government has been working with the Welsh government exploring funding options.

"The government has a clear policy not to toll existing road capacity in the UK. The prime minister has said that and the department has reiterated that. Therefore, if there were to be any tolling at all it would be as a a result of an infrastructure upgrade but the government has no plans to toll existing roads and the government's working to assess the recommendations of the Silk commission (on the welsh government's powers) and will respond to that as soon as possible."

Asked if improvements could be funded by toll money from the Severn bridges in future, Mr Hammond suggested that for that to happen the Act that created the current tolling regime on the Severn crossings may have to be extended.

Could the bridge tolls be used as a revenue stream against which the Welsh government could borrow? (Ministers in both governments agreed a deal on borrowing powers in principle eight months ago)

Committee members emerged afterwards none the wiser on that point, although it was striking how often Mr Hammond reminded them how any future deal on the Severn crossings had to reflect the interests of road users in England as well as those in Wales.

The Welsh Conservatives (who want to privatise Cardiff airport) want to nationalise the Severn bridges, including the one that is wholly in England. This seemed to be news to Mr Hammond, who repeated the UK government's policy when asked if he agreed with colleagues in Cardiff.

Tory MP Simon Hart had a simpler question for him about the cost of the tolls: "Who comes up with the £6.20 or £12.40 or £18.60 figures? As a road user the most annoying thing I find..I'd rather pay £6.50 or 13 quid than try to find these multiples clearly dreamt up by somebody who doesn't drive a car."

Mr Hammond told him: "I'm not sure they drive a car or not. I take the point those are inconvenient numbers. My understanding is that's the concessionaire's decision to set those prices."

Tolls are increased in line with the retail price index every year. Presumably, Severn River Crossings plc would not complain should Mr Hart suggest they keep the change.

 
David Cornock, Parliamentary correspondent, Wales Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    Really enjoyed listening to Queen. They were a great band. Don't think John Redwood would have been allowed to whistle if he was the lead singer

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 17.

    16: There's only one Queen. ;)

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 16.

    I am sure that John Redwood would make a good job of singing the National Anthem, although he might be a little uncertain about when it is 'Our Queen' and when it is 'The Queen' .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    We could have John Redwood singing the National Anthem at the Toll welcoming people to Wales

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 13.

    Is Woodsey seriously suggesting that a bridge with both ends in England should - or could - be 'nationalised' by Wales ? The collection plaza is irrelevant.
    If the decisive argument is held to be where the vehicles come from, are WAG going to try for 10% of the Channel Tunnel revenues ?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 12.

    11 Welsh Water and excellent example of a Welsh Company doing well for non-profit. ' Good Business'

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 11.

    ... the proof of the pudding #10, look to the Humber Bridge, its low charges and management.

    I would propose something similar to Welsh Water, a company set up for the benefit of its users, no matter where they originate.

    Politics does not do "good business", British business does.
    .
    .

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 10.

    9 To give the bridge to London would be a disaster, look at the NHS A&E in melt down, 111 , http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22949211. Gove not listening to Academics over education reform. Tories would privatise and some foreign company would reap the rewards.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 9.

    ... the bridge should remain a British asset, maintained from general taxation, preferably free at the point of use or have a reduced toll in line with the Humber Bridge structure.

    To give the bridge to WAG would on reflection be a disaster, look at Education and Health in Wales, would repairs be set aside to pay for nation building, would we eventually revert to the old ferry ......
    .

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    Why is there an automatic assumption that a bridge located in England would or should be passed to the Welsh Assembly? I feel any revenue raising powers be shared fairly between Wales and England.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 7.

    Has bureaucracy considered calculating the contract price - as per contract- say £6 23p, rounding up to the nearest pound i.e. £7, but taking the difference as tax to be used as a sinking fund on what is described as the Government's ancillary costs, rather than pocketed by the shareholders of the bridgebuilders.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    Never mind all this "We'll make the Severn Bridge cheaper" malarkey !

    The complete doing away of all that toll nonsense is long overdue.

    I am cheesed off with having to tack on to the end of a queue over a mile long for the dubious privilege of throwing £6.20 into a net !

    Wouldn't be quite so bad if they used attractive young ladies at the kiosks.

    Disgusted of Cardiff. (wink)

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 5.

    Hang on Mab. Surely the one set of tolls are in England (as is the bridge)? I too like nothing better of a Friday evening thatn to meander from the imperial capital, my pockets stuffed with lovely £50 notes picked up from the streets to the land of Narnia via Gloucester and the forest at the back of the Wardrobe (the Forest of Dean).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    i agree with tim, already if i have the time in hand i leave the m4 at swindon and route via gloucester and chepstow, saving £3 in the process..

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 3.

    The Severn Bridge toll charges are becoming large enough to influence drivers to take a longer route back into Wales - leading to congestion through Gloucester. I live up near Lampeter, and drive a small 2 seater van - I have to pay £12.40! A large people-carrier/Rangerover/Mini-bus up to 9 seats or suchlike goes back over the bridge into Wales for the same price as a car - £6.20! Grrr!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    This is almost a first: I largely agree with Mab. The sticking point may be who pays for upkeep of the M4 in Wales, specifically the bridge approach roads at present? But using money borrowed againt the bridge profit revenue stream to put a flyover etc at Cross Hands would be sensible at several levels.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    I definitely want the Devolution of Severn Bridge Tolls to Cardiff, and in a perfect world they should be free but reality means with upkeep of the bridge there must be an element of cost set aside for repairs and such. Although I would prefer any money raised largely to go back into the the Welsh economy with the same benefit on the English side adminsitered by England's Westminster Government.

 

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