A New Year and the Severn Bridge tolls have gone up again. This was always going to happen following an agreement struck between the UK Government and the consortium which built the Second Severn Crossing in 1992. However, change is afoot. In April 2018, both bridges will return to public ownership – allowing the government to charge as much or as little as it wants.
I recently obtained figures showing Severn River Crossing Plc collected a net revenue of £91.4m in 2014, of which £13.6m was operational expenditure (including maintenance). £17m was paid in VAT. At present, the difference is being used to pay construction costs but come 2018 the final payment will have been made. While Chancellor George Osborne has agreed to cut VAT on the tolls by 20 per cent, I would like to see a much more generous offer.
The time has arrived for the government to spell out what the new tolling regime will look like post-concession. Suffice to say, the vast majority of businesses and commuters in South Wales are expecting a major reduction. Under my chairmanship, the Welsh Affairs Committee will most probably hold another parliamentary inquiry into this shortly.
Those who can afford to pay the toll to cross into Wales will as likely as not encounter congestion along the M4 from Coldra to Malpas. I was elected to the Welsh Assembly as a youthful 28 year-old in 1999. Since then arguments have raged about a proposed relief road with consultations, studies, decisions, court cases and delays. It would be a pleasant surprise to be driving down a clear motorway through Newport before hitting retirement age…
Further afield, I hope we do not have to wait much longer for a decision on UK airport expansion. There are some great export businesses in South Wales and they need to be able to reach international markets quickly. Britain needs increased runway capacity and we need it now. Wales’ interests would be best served by a third runway at Heathrow, which will be even easier to access once electrification of the Great Western Railway line has taken place.
Sticking just about to the issue of transport and roads, could I congratulate the Spirit of Monmouth Running Club for organising the annual Santa Fun Run. This family event saw hundreds taking part, many in fancy dress. Just as importantly, money was raised for Home Start Monmouthshire who do a great deal of good work in the area.
*Published in the South Wales Argus on 4 January 2016*