What was this and when did it happen?
Jessica Morden MP (Lab., Newport East) secured a debate in Westminster Hall between 2.30 and 4.00pm on Tuesday 21 July 2015, cc435-458WH
Following the passage of the Severn Bridges Act 1992 Severn River Crossing plc (SRC) took over both the operation and maintenance of the existing bridge and the construction of the new bridge.
The finance arranged by the company covered the cost of construction for the new bridge and payment of the outstanding debt on the existing bridge. Tolls are in place to repay the construction and financing costs of the second Severn crossing, the remaining debt from the first existing crossing from 1992 and to maintain and operate both crossings.
The debt is repayable at the end of the concession period, which is the earlier of 2022 and SRC achieving a pre-determined cumulative revenue target from tolls.
Issues for the debate
The debt – SRC is committed to paying a certain amount of money to the Government, the concession ends when it has paid that money. Because the debt has gone up, that amount of money will not cover all of the debt. The debt currently stands at £102 million. It is currently estimated that £88 million of debt will be left when the bridges revert back to public ownership in 2018. The Government argues that this will need to be paid off by the continued levying of tolls on the crossing.
The tolls – since 1995 the tolls have been increased annually in line with RPI, rounded to a ‘convenient’ sum. The toll uprating decision is taken in December of the preceding year, to come into force the following January. The current level of tolls is as follows:
- Category 1 (vehicles of up to 9 seats) £6.50 (10p increase on 2014)
- Category 2 (Small buses up to 17 seats & goods vehicles up to 3.5kg) £13.10 (30p increase on 2014)
- Category 3 (vehicles with 18+ seats and goods vehicles of 3.5kg+) £19.60 (40p increase on 2014)
By way of comparison, the undiscounted price of a single journey for a car at the Dartford Crossing is £2.50; on the Humber Bridge it is £1.50; and at the Mersey Tunnels it is £1.70.
In the March 2015 Budget the Chancellor announced that the Category 2 toll would be abolished in 2018, bringing all but the largest vehicles into the lowest toll category [Red Book, p47]. The Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has said that he would like to see tolls cut further, but that scrapping tolls altogether would be ‘difficult’ [BBC News, 19 March 2015]
Maintenance costs – for the year ended 31 March 2014 operations expenditure (including ancillary works; repairs and strengthening; and structural maintenance, including the cost of investigating and monitoring the M48 Severn Bridge main cables defect) was £800,000.
Future ownership – in its response to the Silk Commission the Government stated that when the Severn Crossings return to public ownership in 2018, it would work with the Welsh Government and others to determine the long-term future of the Crossings. Any future plans should “both ensure the long-term maintenance of the bridges and provide the best support to the local economies in Wales and England” [Powers for a Purpose: Towards a Lasting Devolution Settlement for Wales, p33].
Severn Bridges Act 1992 account 2013 to 2014, 17 December 2014
Severn Bridges Tolls Order 2014 (SI 2014/3313), 15 December 2014
HC Library briefing paper SN442, Roads: tolls, 24 October 2013
Welsh Affairs Select Committee, Crossing the border: road and rail links between England and Wales (third report of session 2012-13), HC 95, 6 March 2013
Welsh Affairs Select Committee, The Severn Crossings Toll (third report of session 2010-12), HC 506, 22 December 2010
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