National Alliance Against Tolls - Forth Bridge Toll Inquiry - December 2004
Forth Bridge Toll Inquiry - December 2004
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BACKGROUND TO THE TOLL INCREASE
Though the bridge was in profit, FETA wanted to increase the tolls. There were 2 objections, but at the end of the day only one formal objector was left: George Campbell - "The Lone Protestor"
Due to George's intervention the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), were prevented from increasing the tolls in October 2004.
To help George fight the toll increase, a new organisation was formed - "Fifers Against Toll Increase", which later became part of NAAT Scotland.
NAAT were put in touch with George Campbell through Doctor Alan Werninck, who was one of the Scottish organisers for the Association of British Drivers. He sadly passed away in October 2004. His knowledge and open manner is missed.
Support for the Toll objectors included Iain Banks the author who hails from Fife. Perhaps appropriate as one of his novels "The Bridge" is about dreams dominated by the spectre of a bridge.
Under the current law, the tolls should end in 2006, and in any case the future of the 4 tolls in Scotland was and is being reviewed by the Scottish Executive.
Bizarrely the authority wanted to increase tolls in October 2004 to pay for expenditure (including £65 million for painting!) which wouldn't start till the time when there should be no tolls anyway!
Even more bizarrely, FETA said at the Inquiry that they had recently signed a contract for nearly £5 million to replace the tolling equipment. This was despite the review of the future of tolls, and despite calls for the Forth tolls to be scrapped from Helen Eadie MSP and others.
The Inquiry into the proposed Toll Increase started on Monday 6th December 2004 and finished the next day.
The main part of FETA Statement of Case can be seen here:- FETA case for Increase
The Statement of Case for the objector was in part based on the legality of the tolls. It was ruled shortly before the Inquiry that the question of legality would not be considered. George Campbell and FATI then sought a ruling and an injunction to stop the Inquiry, but this was not granted more details of the legal position.
This press release was issued on the eve of the Inquiry:- Press Release before Inquiry
Most of the first day of the Inquiry was taken up by evidence from the officers of FETA (the bridge authority).
There was also evidence from George Campbell and NAAT Scotland:- NAAT evidence
This press release was issued after the first day:- Press Release after first day
Tom Minogue from FATI gave his evidence on Tuesday. He started his statement by saying that FATI had been formed to help George Campbell in his David versus Goliath battle.
There were closing statements from George Campbell and FETA's counsel.
BBC "Motorists attack bridge toll rise"
Summary of the Inquiry by Gary Fitzpatrick in the Dunfermline Press on the 9th December 2004:-
THE ageing Forth Road Bridge would not be able to survive financially without increased tolls, a public inquiry heard this week.
That was strongly disputed by opponents who highlighted the healthy profits the bridge was currently making and the large reserves it has in the bank.
The inquiry, led on Monday and Tuesday at the Corus Hotel in North Queensferry, was triggered by sole objector George Campbell, a Fife Council employee, following an application by the Forth Estuary Transport Authority to increase the toll from 80p to £1.
Mr Campbell's intervention scuppered plans for the increase to come into effect at the start of October, saving bridge users around £1 million in charges.
FETA argued that the first increase since 1986 is needed to pay for major programmes of work on the decaying structure.
However, Mr Campbell and his supporters claimed that the original purpose for the tolls no longer existed.
The repayments have long since been paid off and campaigners believe the tolls should be abolished "in the spirit" of legislation introduced when the bridge was being built.
Mr Campbell argued that the existing reserves of more than £17 million should be spent on the bridge and that the Scottish Executive should then take over its maintenance.
Bridgemaster Alastair Andrew said that a number of major projects were required between now and 2018 and that they could only be funded with a toll increase.
The biggest job currently on the horizon is to remove all existing paint from the suspended truss system under the bridge and repaint it completely, the cost of which has been estimated at £65 million.
The high cost came under scrutiny by Tom Minogue, founder of Fifers Against Toll Increases, who argued that for FETA to make no contingency planning in its budget for a public inquiry was either "negligent or arrogant".
He reminded the bridgemaster that his company had previously won contracts for work on the Forth Road Bridge and wanted to know how a figure had been arrived at for this job without tendering.
Mr Andrew said discussions had taken place with Balfour Beattie, who are currently working on the railway bridge.
However, Mr Minogue was unconvinced about the costing and raised the possibility of a much lower tender of around £30 million from a firm keen for the work.
Mr Andrew issued a statement just before the inquiry saying, "It's unfortunate the 20p toll increase had to come to a public inquiry as the planned increase would have helped pay for vital maintenance of the bridge.
"The Forth Road Bridge was 40-years-old this year and like all structures of that age needs ongoing maintenance on a large scale."
He added, "The volume of traffic crossing the Forth Road Bridge is rising year on year - 24 million last year compared to 4 million the year the bridge opened - and this, coupled with the bridge's age, means maintenance costs will continue to rise. This year, FETA is committed to spending more than £9 million on maintenance and it is tolls that pay for this work. FETA's only means of income under the current legislation is the toll revenue."
Donald McGougan, treasurer of FETA, told the inquiry that income had exceeded expenditure in each of the last four years and reserves had increased from £4.96 million in 2000 to £17.63 million at 31st March this year. However, he projected that without the tolls increase there would be a debt of more than £29 million by 2018.
John McGoldrick of the National Alliance Against Tolls, said, "The original basis for tolls on the Forth Road Bridge was that they would finance part of the construction cost, fund a reserve of up to £1.5 million and pay for maintenance, tolling and administration cost during a finite period.
"At the end of that period, the responsibility for the maintenance and administration would be that of the authorities. There would be no tolls."
He also pointed out that Transport Minister Nicol Stephen was currently carrying out a review of bridge tolls which had seen the announcement of their abolition on the Skye Bridge.
"It is inappropriate that FETA are going ahead with an unnecessary, inessential, non-urgent toll increase application when there is a question mark over the future of the toll," he said.
Mr McGoldrick added, "There are proposals at the moment for tolls in Edinburgh. Unlike the Forth Bridge tolls, the people will determine whether this will go ahead or not.
"It is inappropriate for FETA to be going ahead with this application when it is not known whether there will an Edinburgh toll and what its affect will be on the Forth Bridge and Fifers."
The inquiry reporter will deliver his judgement in the new year.
RESULT OF INQUIRY
The Reporter to the Inquiry, reported to Nicol Stephen, the Transport Minister. He backed the increase, and seemed to completely ignore the fact that a toll increase was not necessary at this time, and that the whole system of tolls was supposed to be under review.
After a week of news management and leaks this result was revealed on 21 April 2005:- FETA press release
One example of news management was the story that the A8000 road was to be paid for out of bridge tolls. This was contrary to what we were told at the Inquiry. It is a disgrace that bridge users will be made to pay for a strategic road in Lothian:- Edinburgh's glossy booklet from November 2001 on the A8000 (pdf file)
Another example was the story that the bridge barriers may be unsafe and have to be replaced. By now the bridge should have been toll free. And if it was really necessary to replace the barriers then they should be paid for out of the billions of road taxes. Scotland's annual share of UK road taxes is about £4 billion!
The NAAT and other Forth toll protestors issued this NAAT press release
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