UKIP has today pledged to fight for the abolition of tolls on the Severn Bridges connecting England and Wales. Leader Nigel Farage, and the party’s Transport spokesman Jill Seymour, travelled to the crossings over the Severn Estuary this morning to make the announcement.
The tolls are damaging prospects of economic growth, and claims the cost of scrapping charges could be offset by choosing a cheaper option for a proposed M4 relief road. Ownership of the two Severn Crossing bridges is due to pass from a private French-owned firm into public hands in 2018. And UKIP sees this as an opportunity for the tolls to be scrapped once and for all.
Mr Farage said: “It is simply unfair that motorists entering Wales must pay the highest tolls in the country. It not only hinders transport and economic development for Wales. It divides Wales from England.
“Abolishing tolls will encourage travel to Wales and boost the economy by an estimated £107 million annually, according to the Welsh Government’s own figures.
“The UK government has already yielded a massive revenue of £154 million by charging VAT on Severn Tolls, despite promising to waive the additional tax, a promise they were forced to break due to EU legislation.”
Transport spokesman Jill Seymour, who has also fronted a UKIP campaign to scrap tolls at the Dartford Crossing in London, and the M6 Toll in the West Midlands, said: “Road users contribute some £50 billion a year through a variety of taxes, yet only around £6 billion is re-invested in the transport network.
“Why should they be expected to continue to pay toll fees at sites such as the Severn Crossing?
“We do not accept that there is a 'debt' to the UK government - recently claimed as £88 million by one minister - which should be repaid by continuing tolls.
“Charging to use our busiest motorways or trunk roads is unjustified, and is adding insult to injury to the already over-burdened British driver.
“UKIP is opposed to this highway robbery. We want to block the introduction of any new toll roads, and work towards removing existing tolls from publicly owned roads.
“The taxes we already pay as road users should be more than enough to afford the best road network in the world. Putting road tolls on top of the fuel tax, excise duty and VAT which we already pay is simply wrong.”
She added: "The Government has to realise that motorists are not just a cash-cow to finance other grandiose schemes, like the white elephant HS2 rail project.”
Labour in Wales has mooted continuing high tolls on the Severn Bridges in order to finance other transport infrastructure, notably its preferred 'black route' M4 Relief Road.
The road would take nearly a decade to build, cut through several Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and cost an estimated £1 billion.
Mrs Seymour said: “UKIP opposes both the principle of tolls, and the idea of spending nearly Wales' entire transport capital budget on one project. We also believe relieving the pinch point on the current M4 at the Brynglas tunnels is urgent, not something that can wait for a decade.
“The Welsh government should instead urgently consider other options, most obviously using Newport's Steelworks Road and upgrading stretches of the existing A48 to dual carriageway with slip-roads.”
“The strategic value of the Severn bridges to Wales is enormous. UKIP wants to make devolution work, including by enhancing links with England which benefit Wales and the wider UK economy.
“That means ending Severn Bridge tolls. Many other key bridges in the UK are already toll free, including all in Scotland.”