National Alliance Against Tolls - Message to Fife councillors - mid February 2006

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Message to Fife councillors - mid February 2006

Dear Councillor,

The long term future of the tolls will be decided in the next week or so.

The official policy of Fife council is that it wants the tolls removed. But it is some time since the council actively opposed the tolls. From the messages that we have had from councillors, it appears that there are many who are strongly opposed to the tolls, but others who want to keep them.

We urge you as an individual Fifer, to resist the pro toll interests and to openly call for the removal of the tolls before it is too late and future generations of Fifers are saddled for ever with this unjust burden. We now also ask that at the next FETA meeting (on the 24th) the 4 Fife representatives on behalf of the Council:- 1. Press for the tolls not to be extended, and that instead the Executive should take over the bridge and it's approaches.

2. Seek to overturn the decision, made at the 25th November meeting, that Road User Charging be introduced.

3. Oppose FETA signing any contracts committing them to pay for a road scheme (A8000 / M9 spur) that should be paid for by the Executive, and where the limited offer of some grant is subject to unacceptable conditions.
The 4 Fife representatives on FETA may be outvoted, but at least they will be seen to have stood up for their fellow Fifers.

BACKGROUND

There is a great deal of confusion on the tolls issue.

In our view a lot of the stories over the last few months and particularly during the by-election may have given many people a misleading impression. This is the actual situation, to the best of our knowledge:- 1. The Forth bridge tolls are due to end on the 31st March.
To keep the tolls the Transport Minister will have to make a Ministerial Order. It seems fairly clear that this is his intention, and the actual making of the Order may have been delayed till after the by-election. We expect that the Order will now be made in a week or so. The fact that the tolls are due to end has somehow been obscured from the people of Fife. When Fifers hear about the Order, they will be asking what Fife councillors did to try and stop it.

2. We have been told by FETA that they applied for the tolls to be extended and that they did this on the 21st December 2005.
They have told us that the authority for this comes from a decision at a FETA meeting on 3rd March 2005. The background to this is complex and not fully clear. There is at least one report which is not available to press and public. From the published minutes of the meetings on the 3rd March and 25th November, it is not clear that the March meeting did approve an application for tolls to be extended. The position on the tolls issue of the 4 Fife councillors on FETA is also not clear. (** There is more detail on this below.)

3. It is expected that just before the Easter holiday, the Minister will announce the result of the Tolled Bridges Review which has been going on for two years. It is almost certain that he will confirm that tolls will remain on the two Fife crossings (he could hardly do anything else if he has already issued a Ministerial Order). There is a strong chance that he will say that the Executive will not try to extend tolls on the Erskine bridge which are due to end on the 1st July.

4. Almost all politicians were saying during the by-election that there would be no 4 tolls.
Apart from distracting attention away from the fact that there should be no tolls at all, this meant little. There is no application for tolls of 4 or any other amount, FETA have applied for "Approval In Principle" to a Road User Charging scheme. It is almost inevitable that the Minister will approve this (possibly at the same time as he announces the result of the Tolled Bridges Review). Though FETA have suggested tolls of up to 4, the Executive have confirmed to us that he is not being asked and will not and can not at this stage say what future tolls might be.

5. Over the last few months there has been a lot of talk about a new bridge, and there have been various promises made. Now that the by-election is over we expect that this will be referred by the Executive to some committee and then forgotten.

An impression had been given that the existing bridge was going to have to close at some point due to cable corrosion. The Executive commissioned their own report on this, and they received it during January. So far they have refused to publish this report. But we can perhaps guess what it will say, as since the by-election, FETA have themselves said that "The Forth Road Bridge has always enjoyed the very highest standards of safety and maintenance which are recognised across the world. We are confident that by being pro-active in our investigations, following a very thorough and systematic approach to operational safety, we have caught the corrosion at a time when we can now do something about it." .

The impression was also being given that there had been a substantial growth in bridge traffic, and that either there would be a new bridge needed and / or traffic would have to be choked of with higher tolls. The fact is that traffic in 2005 was less than it was in 2003, and there are various ways that congestion can be eased without tolls.

If and when it is decided to build a new bridge, then a bridge which is privately financed and tolled is a non starter. We have calculated that tolls would have to be about 7, and at this level, few would use it, and the banks would not finance it.

6. There has been some confusion about the funding of the A8000 / M9 spur work which is now estimated to cost 40 million.
This road is of course within the Edinburgh boundary and should either be the responsibility of Edinburgh or the Executive as a trunk road. Some councillors may think that the Executive are paying for the road, but it is FETA that are contracting for the work to be done.

The Executive have said that they will make a contribution, which has been quoted as 24 million. But it is a contribution with strings.

The first string is that the offer is conditional upon "the understanding that FETA will proceed to implement the now finalised Local Transport Strategy, which includes, amongst other things, a commitment to replacing the existing tolling system with a road user charging scheme."

The offer is also made on the understanding that FETA will "maximise the opportunities afforded by this funding, in terms of supporting and investing in public transport and other schemes designed to reduce congestion."

This means that:- a) a large part of the scheme will be paid for from bridge tolls,

b) there is a risk that the conditions will not be met,

c) that even if grant is received, all of the scheme may in effect be paid for from tolls as FETA is expected to spend more tolls money on public transport, and

d) FETA is required to bring in Road User Charging.

Some Fifers might regard this gift from the Executive as a poisoned apple or a Trojan horse.

It would appear that though Fifers might think this, Fife Council do not. When deciding on what the Council would say for the Tolled Bridges Review the Council on the 30th June passed a motion which included "FETA - and appreciate their continued support for Fife, as illustrated by the recent announcements of funding for the A8000". One wonders if the councillors realised that FETA are not philanthropists and that all their money comes from the tolls which are mainly collected from Fifers. There was an amendment moved, which included in part the Executive being asked to "immediately" trunk the A8000 and pay all the cost of the scheme. As councillors will remember this amendment was rejected.

7. There is no excuse for further extending the tolls.
The Forth bridge tolls were originally due to end in May 1995. Roads users already pay seven times more in taxes than is spent on the roads, there is no justification for adding to this burden on Fifers with the extortion of tolls which harm tourism and the local economy. The Executive already pay the costs of 3,500 kilometres of trunk roads and bridges, that carry nearly 40% of all Scotland's traffic and over 60% of heavy goods vehicles. FETA has a year's worth of reserves to cover any gap between the end of tolls and the Executive taking over.

**Details of FETA "decision" to apply for extension of tolls

At the 3rd March 2005 meeting FETA considered a report apparently headed "Funding of Bridge Maintenance". That report has been treated as exempt from the requirement to make information available to press and public, because it was not "in the public interest". to do so. It seems that the report dealt with in part the issue of whether the existing Tolls Order and the tolls themselves were legal. The report was considered with press and public excluded from the meeting. From the minute of the decision it appears that the report recommended:- firstly "that Officers enter discussion with the Scottish Executive to seek to resolve the review of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority Order 2002, and

secondly, "that Officers be authorised to initiate the necessary statutory procedure described in the report to protect the authority's income for bridge maintenance from 1st April, 2006"
The minutes of that meeting then show:-

Motion

Councillor McGarry seconded by Councillor Cameron moved that the first recommendation in the report be approved but not the second.

Amendment

Councillor Rumney seconded by Councillor Martin moved that both recommendations in the report be approved.

Vote

Motion 2, Amendment 6


This appears to mean that:- a) There was information on the future of the tolls that was not available to the public.

b) The Fife councillors were divided on this issue (one SNP and one Labour on one side, and the other Labour and the Liberal Democrat on the other), with the non Fife councillors voting against the motion from Councillors McGarry and Cameron.
It is strange that this FETA decision in March is the justification for applying in December for an extension to the tolls, as this was not explicit in the resolution (though it may have been to those who were allowed to see what was "described" in the report).

It seems that not only us may have thought that there was no clear resolution. At the last FETA meeting, in November, there was a motion "To approve the Integrated Transport Initiative- Application for Approval in Principle for submission to Scottish Ministers" (There were further parts to the motion but they mainly dealt with consultation.). An amendment was moved that FETA "Makes application to the Ministers for the extension of the current Tolling Order to 1 April 2009" and that in effect the decision on Road User Charging be postponed. This amendment was supported by all 4 Fife councillors and the member for West Lothian. But it was defeated by the 4 councillors from Edinburgh and the one from Perth & Kinross and then the casting vote of the Edinburgh chairman. It is not clear why Fife councillors voted for the existing tolls to be extended. Nor is it clear why the other councillors voted against it (they want Road User Charging, but they also want the existing tolls extended till Road User Charges are introduced).
But more importantly, if applying for an extension to tolling had already been decided at the March meeting, then why was it moved again in November, and then defeated?

Minutes of March meeting (Item 8)     Minutes of November meeting (Item 5)

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