South East Wales

Severn bridges in public ownership by 2017, says MP

People walking along the Severn Bridge Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption People were given the chance to walk along the original Severn Bridge after it was opened in 1966

The Severn crossings could be in public ownership by autumn 2017, an MP says.

Monmouth MP David Davies has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, urging the UK government to set out a detailed handover plan.

The M48 Severn Bridge and M4 Second Severn Crossing are due to come back into public ownership in April 2018 once construction cost debts are repaid to Severn River Crossing (SRC) PLC.

Mr Davies said tax changes and traffic volume will see this repaid sooner.

The Conservative MP, who is chairman of the Welsh affairs committee, led a parliamentary inquiry into the economic impact of the Severn tolls in 2010.

"Changes to corporation tax and an increase in traffic due to low fuel prices mean that the sum promised to SRC will inevitably be paid months earlier than expected," he said.

"I believe it could happen as soon as October or November 2017, so we have less than two years to put a proper plan in place."

Government ownership should see an "immediate removal" of the 20% VAT applied to the Severn Bridge tolls, Mr Davies added, as under EU rules it would not be chargeable on a government-owned piece of infrastructure.

Image copyright Getty Images

Figures obtained by Mr Davies from the Department for Transport showed SRC collected a net revenue of £91.4m in 2014 - of which just £13.16m was operational expenditure, including maintenance, while £17m was paid in VAT.

"These figures prove there is scope for a huge cut in tolls," he said.

"However, reducing the tolls would increase traffic levels and could lead to big queues on the toll plaza unless SRC introduces an electronic pre-pay system similar to the one used for the London congestion charge.

"This would take time and require government involvement. As far as I am aware, nothing has been done yet.

"A lot of local people work as toll collectors and I know some of them are getting concerned at the lack of information about what the future holds post-concession."

Mr Davies said the Welsh affairs committee would "want to look further into this" and would press the government for the latest estimate of the handover date.

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