HC Deb 20 April 2004 vol 420 cc141-3
4. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab)

How many motorists are registered to pay tolls on the Severn bridge by the tag method. [166172]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

The tag system is operated by the bridge operators, Severn River Crossing plc. I understand from them that as of 29 February 2004 a total of 38,893 tags were in use. In February 2004, 22 per cent. of all crossings and 68 per cent. of heavy goods vehicle crossings used that system.

Mr. Edwards

Does my hon. Friend appreciate the concerns of my constituents who, since the opening of the new bridge, find that the old Severn bridge is used largely for local traffic, and find it irritating to have to pay £4.60 to get back to town when they have travelled only a couple of miles to the east of where they live in Chepstow? Will he consider introducing a better discount system to serve the residents of Chepstow and other parts of Monmouthshire, and perhaps others who live near the bridge?

Mr. Jamieson

I understand the importance of this to my hon. Friend's constituents, and why he would call for a concession for local residents, but if that was imposed by the Government, the operators would almost certainly want to re-finance the deal, which would push back the estimated date of 2016 for the removal of the toll. Those who buy a monthly tag and use the bridge more than 18 times already receive some concession. Any other form of concession would put a considerable burden on the public purse. Perhaps he would like to raise the issue with the Welsh Assembly Government, but I can tell him that there is no easy or low-cost solution.

Mr. Simon Thomas(PC) (Ceredigion)

Surely that last point is part of the answer. The Richards report has recently come out in Wales, and further devolution to the National Assembly is likely. Surely the future for both Severn crossings is now part of an overall package of road pricing for the whole of the motorway network in south Wales, and it would be better to transfer the responsibilities over a period from the Minister's Department to the National Assembly, to better reflect the views of local residents and the national needs of Wales.

Mr. Jamieson

We cannot now unpick the Act of Parliament that set up the two bridges. The hon. Gentleman's constituents may not be experiencing the same problems as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) but perhaps they can join forces to see whether the Welsh Assembly Government can find a solution, or whether the operators themselves can come up with something. We would be happy to assist in that, but I repeat that there is no easy or low-cost solution.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)

Just up the road from the Severn bridge, although it is early days, we have a very successful toll road round the eastern side of our west midlands conurbation. In view of that success, which has eased congestion on the M6, linking to the M5 to the Severn bridge, may I urge the Minister to revisit his consideration of the orbital road around the western side of the west midlands conurbation, especially in relation to tolling?

Mr. Jamieson

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in getting in that question in this context. I recognise the success of the M6 toll—I have used it myself—which considerably reduces journey times north and south around the north of Birmingham, and I am sure that his points will be given careful consideration.

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