'We couldn't scrap bridge tolls' says First Minister

The Second Severn Crossing will be paid for in the next few years and the Welsh Government is eyeing the toll revenue Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The First Minister has ruled out scrapping the tolls on the Severn Bridges if the Welsh Government takes control once the cost of building the Second Severn Crossing has been paid for.

That's due to happen in 2017 or 2018 and Carwyn Jones says it would be wrong for the UK Transport Department to take over the bridges and the toll income.

But the Welsh Government would not get rid of the tolls or cut them to a level where they would just pay for maintaining the bridges.

Interviewed for tonight's Sharp End, the First Minister said the extra money would be spent on M4 improvements.

We could look to reduce the tolls. We couldn't abolish the tolls, let's be perfectly frank about that. But of course any money that is raised could be applied to the M4 in Wales. As to what the toll should be, that is something we would have to look at. We could look to reduce the tolls.

[By how much] depends of course on whether the tolls are reduced by an equivalent amount for all the different types of vehicle that cross the bridge. The important point is of course that still leaves scope for having that extra money which we could spend on the M4 in Wales.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

At present, the tolls are in three bands and are raised in line with inflation every year. The current prices were set in January:

  • Cars £6.00
  • Vans and minibuses £12.10
  • Lorries and buses £18.10

From January 2013, prices will rise by up to 3.3%, transport minister Stephen Hammond announced yesterday

  • Cars £6.20
  • Vans and minibuses £12.40
  • Lorries and buses £18.60

The main priority for the M4 is relieving the bottleneck around Newport, where traffic often queues to get through the Brynglas Tunnels.

The Welsh Government could use the new borrowing powers it has agreed with the Treasury to raise a loan and use the toll income to repay it.

The First Minister ruled out using tax revenue that might be devolved to Wales to pay off such a loan, although it could be used to raise funds for other projects.

Various options for easing the motorway congestion are being examined but building a second motorway to the south of Newport would cost between £800m and £900m. The annual toll revenue from the bridges is around £90m, with a maintenance bill of £15m. That could raise enough money to build a relief motorway, although the loan could take 30 years to pay off.

Using the toll income to improve the M4 in Wales was first suggested by the Chancellor, George Osborne, a year ago. Then the Welsh Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, said the tolls should be halved as happened on the Humber Bridge, which the UK government controls. A report for the Welsh Government earlier this year estimated that halving the Severn tolls would increase traffic by 5%, making the improvements at Newport more urgent.

Scrapping the tolls completely could boost the Welsh economy by £107 million a year but traffic would rise by 12%, leaving the prospect of permanent congestion around Newport, without the funds to do anything about it.

Adrian Masters' full interview with the First Minister will be on Sharp End at 10:35pm tonight on ITV1 Wales.

Rob Osborne meets a group of Welsh motorists to discuss their views on the news.