The First Minister, Carwyn Jones says he commissioned an Independent report to look at the economic impact of the tolls and assess the overall balance of effects on the Welsh economy.
The Welsh Government are focusing on the importance of the Severn Crossing in providing a key link in Wales’ transport and economic infrastructure. The report revealed that the tolls are costing the Welsh economy around £80 million a year with the current tolls being used to pay for the construction and upkeep of the Severn Crossings.
Speaking at his monthly press conference, the First Minister has called for the UK Government to open discussions with the Welsh Government on the arrangements governing the Severn Crossing after 2018, with one option being the Welsh Government taking full control of the tolling regime.
– Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister
The current concession agreement granted to the private company that runs the crossings is likely to end in 2018. After this the revenue from the tolls will go to the UK Government.
The time has therefore come to start thinking about the future of the crossings so that a new arrangement can be secured that maximises the economic benefit to Wales and the UK.
I am therefore calling for early discussions on the arrangements relating to the crossings when the current agreement ends. This will need to encompass the suitability of the existing legislation and the future of tolling.
The First Minister has said he is concerned about recent indications from the UK Government that they might seek to retain the income from tolling beyond 2018, which would give a perception that drivers coming into Wales were being charged, directly or indirectly, to fund the Department for Transport spending in England.
– Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister
There needs to be an acceptance of the underlying principle that the Welsh Government should play a central role in determining future arrangements and in accessing and utilising any future revenue streams for the benefit of the people of Wales.
I want to work with the UK Government to achieve a situation where decisions about charging will be a matter for the Welsh Government.
It is too soon to say what the best solution would be if we gained control over the tolls. There are a number of options available and we would need careful consideration of how any revenue raised would be used. However, what is clear is that these decisions should be made in Wales.
The First Minister says he will be raising the issue with UK Ministers in the coming weeks.
The Severn Crossings are the primary gateway to South Wales, catering for average daily traffic of around 80,000 vehicles. The first Severn Bridge was opened to traffic in 1966. The Second Severn Crossing was openend in 1966 and the two bridges now operate in tandem.
Tolls have been in place for the entire history of Severn Crossings and, as with most toll bridges around the world, the charges have been used to pay for their construction, maintenance and operation through a concession agreement with a private operator.
The concession agreement currently in place ends at the point that the operator has collected £996m in 1989 prices. Recent estimates have suggested that this point could be reached by around 2017. Following the end of the concession agreement, ownership (as well as the future maintenance burden) will transfer back to the UK Government.This offers the opportunity to consider the possible implications of alternatives to the current user charging regime on the Severn Crossings.
In December 20120, the report of the Welsh Affairs Committee enquiry into the Severn Crossings Toll was published. One of the main findings of the Committee was the lack of robust evidence for the impact of the tolls. This study, commissioned by the Welsh Government and undertaken by Arup and the University of the West of England (UWE), is the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of the tolls on the Severn Crossings.