Fuel duty fear over Lib Dems plan to scrap Severn tolls

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Liberal Democrats plans to scrap the tolls on the Severn Bridges have received mixed responses from transport industry organisations, with the Road Haulage Association warning against raising fuel duty to make up the shortfall.

More than 80,000 vehicles use the two crossing points daily, with users having to pay £19.20 for a lorry, £12.80 for a van and £6.40 for a car.

Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, said: “By scrapping the tolls, the Liberal Democrats would be boosting the South Wales economy by around £107 million a year.”

The Freight Transport Association welcomed the plan. Ian Gallagher, head of policy for Wales, said: “Scrapping the tolls would be a welcome shot in the arm for business and commuters who use the bridges daily. Scrapping them altogether would allow businesses to invest in the things that matter such as new vehicles and staff recruitment.”

Bu the Road Haulage Association was more cautious. “Of course we would be in favour of scrapping the current tolling regime,” said chief executive Geoff Dunning. “However, we would not want to see this turn into a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. If the Lib Dems abolish the tolls there can be no instance whereby the subsequent financial loss is recouped in other areas – such as an increase in fuel duty.”

The bridges, which are operated by Severn River Crossing Plc, are expected to revert back to public ownership in 2018. When this happens it is expected that approximately £88 million will be outstanding on the bridge, with the debt expected to be cleared within two years.

The Liberal Democrat plan is to scrap the tolls entirely, rather than retain a charge to cover maintenance costs. They have claimed that it would cost the Treasury £15 million a year to cover the maintenance costs.

* This proposal by the Liberal Democrats coincides with the publication of a paper, by the EEF, calling for the creation of a permanent UK infrastructure authority to address the nation’s long-term infrastructure requirements.

The EEF, the trade association for manufacturers, said the authority would bring clarity to debates on infrastructure challenges and encourage investment to support growth and competitiveness.

The EEF proposes creating a single UK infrastructure authority, with a parent board accountable to Parliament. The proposed body would create a national assessment every five years that would look at the country’s infrastructure needs.

An EEF survey has shown that the UK’s road and energy infrastructure along with doubts over expanding airport capacity are critical factors for foreign firms when deciding where to invest.

Chris Richards, EEF business environment policy advisor, said: “Political prevarication and policy reversals have left Britain in the slow lane in developing its infrastructure for decades. The neglect of our roads, the indecision on expanding airport capacity and, the agonising over high speed rail routes connecting our major cities have only served to exacerbate the feeling that Britain’s infrastructure is not geared up to support growth.”

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