(page revised 14 September 2014)
Wales & Severn
WALES AND SEVERN
There are only two significant tolls in Wales - Cleddau bridge Severn Crossing bridges. And the Severn, only charges a toll if you wish to enter Wales!
There are also two very minor toll bridges -
On the Penmaenpool Bridge across the Afon Mawddach near Dolgellau. The toll for cars is 60 pence and the bridge seems to have escaped from a troll tale as it consists of rattling wooden planks and has a 5mph speed limit.
On the Barmouth Bridge at the mouth of the Afon Mawddach. The bridge can not be used by motor vehicles and is limited to trains, cycles and pedestrians.
The toll on the Porthmadog Cob which carries the A487 over an arm of the Traeth Bach estuary was bought out by the Welsh Assembly and the toll queues removed with the tolls at the end of March 2003.
There also used to be a toll on the Pont Briwet across the Traeth Bach estuary between Penrhyndeudraeth and Llandecwyn in Gwynedd. The bridge also carried trains and appeared to be owned by Network Rail. The toll was 40 pence for cars. The bridge is being replaced and was closed to road traffic in January 2014. A new rail bridge came into use on 1st September 2014. A replacement road bridge - without tolls - is due to come into use in 2015.
The Welsh Assembly announced on the 7th December 2004 that there would be another toll road - a new road to relieve congestion on the M4 near Newport. A toll would be a double whammy for those who already use the Severn bridge. The plan was ababdoned in 2009 due to opposition to tolling. Then in 2012 the Chancellor said that instead of tolling, the UK Government would let the Welsh Assembly borrow to pay for the scheme. In June 2014 Edwina Hart, the Welsh Transport Minister, announced that a scheme would be going ahead. There is however a lot of opposition from various groups who are opposed to roads or who prefer a different scheme, and there are reports that tolls on the Severn Crossing might be used to pay for the scheme.
This is the only significant road toll wholly in Wales. The bridge crosses Milford Haven near Pembroke. It was opened in the 1970s and forms part of the otherwise untolled A477.
The toll is 75 pence for cars, and more for trucks. There are about 4 million crossings a year generating about £3 million income a year - more than the cost of building the bridge!
The bridge and the tolling of it is almost unknown outside the local area.
A petition to scrap the toll has been started by Andrew Lye of Haverford West - Andrew's Blog. If you can help in the campaign to remove the Cleddau tolls then you can contact Andrew at - CLEDDAU TOLLS.
Link: The bridge is run by Pembrokeshire County Council. There is no website apart from this page
The Severn Crossing has two bridges - opened in 1966 and 1996. The crossings, like Dartford on the M25, are just the cross river section of an otherwise untolled motorway (1966 crossing part of the M48 and the 1996 crossing part of the M4).
The toll for cars is £6.40 (as at January 2014) but is only payable in west bound direction (England to Wales), with higher tolls for trucks. There are about 26 million crossings a year, generating income of £80 million.
Link: Official site
The Campaign Against Severn Tolls is led by John Warman a councillor from Neath and Port Talbot.
John welcomes supporters from both England and Wales. He can be contacted at:- SEVERN TOLLS
John's campaign has been supported by various papers and in particular by the Western Mail:- Anti Toll Alliance
On the BBC web site after the Skye bridge tolls were removed in December 2004, John Morgan from Varteg near Pontypool asked "Why should we have to pay to enter Wales from that place across the river? The Skye authority, along with the Scottish parliament, have seen fit to buy out the private toll collection company - we should do the same." BBC - "Morgan's Shout - Severn Bridge Tolls"
One of the particular issues with the Severn Crossing was the imposition of VAT from 1 February 2003. MPs were told that this would not affect the tolls. This was not true. The VAT is being kept by the Chancellor and the tolls will have to be collected for a longer period to make up for the £150 million tolls that will go as VAT rather than being used to repay debt.
Rhodri Clark reported our findings in the Western Mail on the 5 May 2005:- "Fury as government extends Severn tolls".
We tried to get Westminster MPs interested in this can of worms, but they seemed either to not understand or not to care. We had some hope early in 2006 that the Public Accounts Committe would take an interest in this as they had said that they were concerned about what was happening where "PFI" schemes were refinanced. In the event they also either did not understand what was happening or did not care.
Summary of the VAT position
1. European Court of Justice ruled in September 2000 that VAT must be imposedon privately operated tolls. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, AndrewSmith, then said:-
"..We have always opposed the principle of charging VAT in this area and fought hard to keep all toll charges free of VAT. We are determined to protect motorists from the impact of this unwelcome ruling. I have asked Customs and Excise to hold urgent consultations with operators of those tolled bridges and roads affected to devise a scheme of Government support to offset the cost of VAT. It will be fully funded..."
Between then and January 2003, it appears that there must have been discussions between the various parties.
2. Then between December 2002 and January 2003, there were a series (*) of statements and questions in the Commons about what was happening. The most significant road said to be affected by the VAT ruling was the Severn Crossings. For this and the other toll roads affected, the Government ministers told Parliament that in some unspecified manner, the road operators would be reimbursed the VAT and that roads users would not be affected. The amount of the reimbursement was said to range between £250,000 and £300,000 a year.
3. Michael Meacher later asked a question about all PFI deals, to which Paul Boateng gave an answer on 31 March 2004. Mr Meacher did not get all that he asked for. But the answer included that there had been a "refinancing gain" on the Severn Crossing scheme. The amount of the gain was said to be £63 million, with the Government's share being said to be £25 million.
4. Mr Boateng's answer appears to have been noticed by Lembit Optik, the Lib Dem spokesman on Welsh affairs. There was then a story by Rhodri Clark in the Western Mail on 24th July 2004. The story said that the Severn River Crossing company had gained £38 million. But a spokesman for the company denied this and said that the £38 million was used to offset the cost of the VAT on the tolls.
5. We raised this issue with the DfT at the end of September 2004, but did not receive answers that were satisfactory to us. We were eventually told by DfT that they were waiting for information from someone in the Treasury. After a very long delay, we learned the name of the Treasury person and contacted him in early April of 2005. He told us that the information that the Treasury had came from Partnerships UK and that their information in turn came from someone in the Highways agency.
6. We then contacted the person in the Highways agency who replied that the figures did not come from the Highways Agency and that he did not agree with them. He did say that the refinancing had been solely to compensate for the VAT (though it seemed strange to us that if refinancing was possible, then they only proceeded because of the VAT). In any case, it seemed that no one knew what was going on and that the information given to MPs was inaccurate and misleading.
(*) On 19 December 2002, there was a written statement to the Commons from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Healey:-
"On 12 September 2000, the European Court of Justice ruled that privately operated tolls should bear VAT. The Government will implement this ruling with effect from 1 February 2003, once consultations with toll operators have been concluded. At the time of this ruling, the Government made clear its intention that motorists should not pay higher toll charges as a result of the imposition of VAT. Our intention remains that tolls will not increase on account of VAT being levied from 1 February."
Christopher Chope MP then asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer:-
"If he will list the privately operated tolls which will be subject to VAT from 1st February".
The answer on 7 January 2003 from John Healey was:-
"The Government is aware of 10 bridges operated by non-public bodies where the tolls will become subject to VAT from 1 February if the bodies are liable to register for VAT. These are Aldwark Bridge, Clifton Suspension Bridge, Dunham Bridge, Rixton and Warburton Bridge, Severn River Crossing, Skye Bridge, Swinford Bridge, Shrewsbury (Kingsland) Bridge, Whitchurch Bridge and Whitney on Wye Bridge. As I made clear in my written statement of 19 December, the Government's intention remains that tolls will not increase on account of VAT being levied from 1 February. The Department for Transport and the Scottish Executive are consulting with toll operators on the details, and suitable arrangements will be in place by 1 February. In addition to these, tolls levied by private landowners to cross their land will also become subject to VAT. There is no central record maintained of this type of toll."
Mr. Chope then asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer:-
"Pursuant to the Written Ministerial statement of 19 December, on VAT on privately operated toll roads, how he intends to ensure that tolls will not increase on account of VAT being levied from 1st February 2003."
The answer from John Healey was:-
"As I made clear in my statement, the Government's intention remains that tolls will not increase on account of VAT being levied from 1 February. The Department for Transport and the Scottish Executive are consulting with toll operators on the details, and suitable arrangements will be in place by 1 February."
On 28 January 2003, Christopher Chope raised the matter again:-
"To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what his estimate is of the annual cost to his Department of reimbursing VAT to private operators of tolls on the basis being consulted upon at present."
The answer from Mr. Jamieson was:-
"Current estimates are that the annual reimbursement will range from about £250,000 to £350,000."
Mr. Chope then asked the Secretary of State for Transport:-
"What arrangements will be in place on 1 February to ensure that privately operated tolls do not increase by reason of the incidence of a VAT liability."
The answer from Mr. Jamieson was:-
"My Department is currently consulting with owners of privately operated statutory tolled undertakings on a reimbursement scheme, which will allow qualifying operators to recover VAT included in tolls. The scheme will be in place before any payment under it will need to be made. The concession agreement at the Severn crossings has been renegotiated to eliminate the need to increase tolls because of the introduction of VAT."
Wales & Severn