I had a few hours free yesterday afternoon so visited Berkeley Castle. It’s just one of the many places I could have visited that are within about half hours drive of my home in Bristol. I could have gone to Tyntesfield or Clevedon Court. All would be free to visit as I am a member of all the major heritage groups. Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey or Tredegar House would also have been free…..except for the fact that they are in South Wales, so I would have to have paid £6.40 just to cross the river Severn.
I wonder how often Bristolians dismiss a short trip to Wales, just because of the toll? Or for that matter, how many people from Newport and Monmouthshire who decide not to come to SS Great Britain or Bristol Zoo for an afternoon. The tolls are a major barrier to cross border tourism.
The tolls are also a barrier to the development of the general Seversnside economy. The last “proper job” I had before being elected Bristol West MP in 2005 was the Tax Accountant for the RAC, based at the Aztec West business park. Hundreds of people who work at the RAC or Orange (where I’ve also worked) commute over from South Wales. Similarly, hundreds of people from Bristol commute to Cardiff to work in the film and televesion industries based there. The £6.40 a day toll represents a tax on jobs of over £1,500 a year.
For small businesses it is even worse. The toll for a small van is £12.80. So even if a business limited its calls and deliveries to just one per day then the toll would take about £4,500 out of profit, just for delivering to Chepstow as opposed to Bath.
The two bridges are owned currently by a French company, under a concession granted by the Major government for the building of the second crossing, twenty years ago. They will collect all tolls until the second bridge is paid for, expected to be from about 2017. At that point the bridges return to state ownership. So the next UK government (the 1966 suspension bridge is wholly in Gloucestershire) will get to decide future toll levels. The Liberal Democrats believe that the fairest decision would be to scrap the tolls altogether. Scrapping the tolls would not cost much, as the only future costs will be maintenance. The cost of actually collecting the tolls would also be saved.
Scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls will be in the 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto and will therefore be included in the negotiations for the next coalition government. The campaign was launched last week by the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams AM, the Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott and myself.
You can register your support at http://www.monmouthlibdems.org.uk/severn_tolls