Severn tolls rise leads to call to remove burden on businesses

TOLLS to use the two Severn crossings will go up on New Year's Day, leading to further calls to reduce their "unfair" burden on businesses.

Drivers of cars and motor caravans will have to pay £6.40 on the Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing from tomorrow, an increase of 20p on the current fee.

The charge for small goods vehicles and small buses rises by 40p to £12.80, while the rate for lorries and buses will go up by 60p to £19.20. The tolls are only paid on the westbound carriageways.

But the Freight Transport Association has joined leaders of small businesses to call for an immediate cut in the tolls once the bridges pass into public hands.

They said the fee should be reduced to a level where they only cover maintenance costs once the current contract with Severn River Crossing (SRC), which oversees the operations of the crossings, comes to an end.

Ian Gallagher, the FTA's head of policy for Wales and the South West, said: "For too long businesses have had to pay high tolls to use the Severn crossings, which are a vital artery between Wales and England.

"The FTA believes that the tolls must be reduced as soon as the bridges pass into public ownership.

"As we look to the future, it is clear that the method by which the Seven crossings were funded is not a suitable blueprint for new infrastructure projects and we would call for Government to steer well clear of any similar schemes."

The FTA and the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales said the system of tolls put an unfair burden on road users to fund bridges that formed a vital part of the UK's transport system.

Toll levels were agreed by Parliament through the Severn Bridges Act of 1992, which allowed the charges to be revised annually in line with a formula linked to the retail price index and rounded to the nearest 10p.

The Act resulted from the contract to build the Second Severn Crossing, which saw SRC enter into a concession agreement with the Government .

An end date to the concession, which is limited to a maximum of 30 years, will actually be reached when SRC has collected a fixed sum from the tolls and is currently forecast to be in 2018.

In June 2012, the Highways Agency signed an extension to the agreement to reflect tax changes and the extra costs of introducing card payments at the toll booths, which increased the amount SRC can raise in tolls from £996 million to £1,029 million - all at July 1989 prices.

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