Tamar Bridge tolls set to increase by 15% despite warnings hike would be 'unjust'

Crossing the Tamar Bridge could soon cost 15% more after a council vote.

Crossing the Tamar Bridge could soon cost 15% more.

Following a debate at New County Hall in Truro, Cornwall councillors have narrowly voted in favour of increasing the bridge tolls.

The final vote was 38 in favour of increasing the tolls and 36 against. 

It would mean cars will have to pay £3 to cross, rising from £2.60. People using the pre-paid electronic tag system have to pay £1.50, rising from £1.30. 

A number of councillors spoke about the economic impact on people in the Duchy, particularly in the south east and eastern parts of Cornwall.

One even described it as an “unfair and unjust tax on the people of Cornwall”.

The Tamar Bridge connects Devon and Cornwall

However the council’s Conservative portfolio holder for transport Cllr Richard Williams-Pears said the decision had to be made due to financial pressures resulting from continued reduced traffic flows post-Covid and high inflation levels since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

The council heard that without intervention, “forecast income will be insufficient to support the continued delivery of safe reliable and efficient crossings”.

Cllr Williams-Pears said that he would delay asking the Secretary of State for permission to increase the tolls for 55 days to give South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray and Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer a chance to deliver on their ambition of securing extra Government funding.

Both MPs say the extra cost would put more financial burden on commuters. They are urging the Government to provide a grant towards the maintenance of the crossings upon the condition that there is no increase in the tolls.

A statement from Saltash Lib Dem councillor Hilary Frank was read out at the meeting. She said the increase would have significant financial implications for residents of the town as well as the whole of south east Cornwall and said it was akin to “daylight robbery”, which represents a 50 per cent uplift on what people were paying in December 2022.

Cllr Colin Martin, the Lib Dem group leader, proposed that no decision on toll changes should be made before the General Election, but Conservative deputy leader Cllr David Harris said that position would be “irresponsible” as the budget needed to be in place by 1 April.

Conservative councillor Philip Desmonde called the tolls an “unacceptable tax on businesses and residents” and called for National Highways to pay a contribution as the Tamar bridge carries the A38. Independent councillor Paul Wills called the tolls an “unfair and unjust tax on the people of Cornwall”.

In a heartfelt speech, Jane Pascoe, Conservative councillor for Liskeard South and Dobwalls, added: “I cannot support further increase to the Tamar tolls. The impact on hard-working people in south east Cornwall and east Cornwall should never be underestimated.

"These are not anonymous people – they are Cornish residents, some are nurses, porters, dockyard workers, teachers and shop assistants.

“They are people who are struggling to bring up a family, pay mortgages, high energy bills and fuel costs. We can do far better for them. For their sake we must all try harder to solve the problem of the maintenance of the Tamar crossings.

“The tolls mean people in south east Cornwall must pay to access hospital treatment and to go to work and school or college. Those people should no longer shoulder the burden of maintaining the bridge and the ferry.”

The Cornwall Council meeting outcome comes days after Plymouth City Council also approved the proposals. 

Both authorities are co-owners which share the operation and maintenance of the bridge, but it is financed by tolls paid by drivers.

Back in December, a joint committee of Cornwall and Plymouth councillors voted in favour of the price rise.

Now both councils have approved the proposals separately, the final step is for the Secretary of State for Transport to give the green light.