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.
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.
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.