Business leaders have welcomed plans by the Liberal Democrats to scrap Severn Bridge tolls if the party was returned to power at next year’s UK General Election.
The party has said scrapping the tolls, which range from £6.40 for a car to £19.20 for a coach or lorry, would boost the Welsh economy by £107 million a year.
The toll is currently collected by private company Severn River Crossing and the funds are used to pay the construction costs of the bridges.
The tolls will end when a revenue target collected from tolls is reached. Current forecasts state they will end in 2018. Once the tolls are transferred into public ownership and debts are repaid, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap the tolls completely.
Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said: “This announcement will offer a huge boost to the Welsh economy and save the average commuter around £1,536 a year. It will help to build a strong economy and a fairer society.
“These tolls shouldn’t be used as a money-maker by either the Welsh or UK Government. Tolls are extremely rare in the UK, so I see no reason why people should be forced to pay to enter Wales.”
The announcement has been welcomed by Denise Lovering, Chair of Caerphilly Business Forum and Welsh Chair of the Freight Transport Association.
She said: “The impact of the continued increase in the cost of the tolls on business, particularly transport and freight businesses, have been enormous and continue to be so. The tolls are a major factor in the lack of Regional Distribution Centres in Wales, and when you find out that the cost to some companies is in excess of £500,000 a year it doesn’t take much to understand what a boost to the economy the removal of the tolls would be. It would also signal that Wales is open for business and you don’t have to pay to come in.”
Rhodri Evans, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, added: “We have long warned that the current tolls levied on hauliers, small businesses and other motorists are damaging the economy of South Wales. Indeed, a report for the Welsh Government has suggested that if the bridge tolls were abolished it could boost economic output in Wales by £107 million.
“We believe that the tolls must be reduced as soon as the bridges pass into public ownership and welcome any commitment to do so.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The Department of Transport and the Highway Agency are currently responsible for both crossings, including the level of the tolls.
“However, we have made it clear to the UK Government that we should have a say on future of the tolls after the end of the current concession agreement with Severn River Crossing PLC.”