THERE are no plans to reintroduce tolls on the Severn bridges, the leader of Monmouthshire County Council has said.
The Daily Mail has reported the council is lobbying for the return of charges to cross the bridges over the M4 and M48 which were scrapped in December 2018 – by which time the price to cross from England to Wales in a car had reduced to £5.60 after peaking at £6.70.
Welsh secretary and Monmouth MP David Davies has hit out at the Labour-led council which had raised the possibility of tolls being reinstated in its local transport plan it is currently consulting on.
The Conservative MP said: “The move is disastrous because it will damage local businesses, leave people out of pocket and deter tourists from coming to Monmouthshire.”
Councillor Richard John, the leader of the Tory opposition on the council, said: “Labour’s plan to reinstate the Severn tolls would be yet another tax on hard-pressed residents and businesses – they need to abandon it immediately.”
But council leader Mary Ann Brocklesby has said the council has no intention of bringing back the bridge tolls.
The Labour councillor said: “It’s not something we are doing nor are we considering doing it and we do not intend lobbying for it.
“It is not part of the plan. We will look at feedback from the consultation, the council’s scrutiny committee and the transport forum and review and revise the strategy in light of that.”
Cllr Brocklesby however acknowledged the wording in the 72 page consultation document may have suggested the council could have supported a reintroduction of the tolls, which were scrapped by the UK Government with cross party support in Wales.
She said: “It has been been pointed out to me the wording could be interpreted in the way it has been.”
The council could support new roads in the Chepstow area, which it is in discussion with both the Welsh and UK governments about, which is where Cllr Brocklesby said the confusion had arisen as reintroducing tolls is listed among projects the document suggests could be reviewed.
The document makes just one mention of reinstating tolls on the Severn bridges, stating: “Would reduce journeys to/from Bristol by private car and subsequently would reduce traffic on the M4 and M48.”
That is listed as a “strength” and in the same table on page 42 of the document it describes the “risks” of bringing back the tolls as:
“Would involve multi-agency approval and likely to attract significant public and business opposition, as well as high infrastructure costs.”
The table lists nine potential schemes – from additional car parking at Abergavenny railway station and once again closing Chepstow High Street to traffic to the reintroduction of the bridge tolls – as projects for further consideration or review despite them not completely aligning with current Welsh Government policy.
Among those schemes is a plan the council does support of a B4245/M48 Link Road in southern Monmouthshire.
The plan states: “Monmouthshire County Council remains committed to the proposition that the M48 should be re-classified and that a link road should be constructed from the reclassified M48 to the B4245.”.
That proposal was rejected by the Welsh Government when it published its review of potential new roads in early 2023 but the council wants to continue pushing it as it believes it “would improve access to the rail network at Severn Tunnel Junction and support active travel improvements.”
The plan also lists an A48 Chepstow traffic relief road as a scheme the council could support, but says it would need “careful consideration” to ensure people are encouraged to switch to more sustainable forms of transport than the private car.
Cllr Brocklesby described the reference to reinstating the bridge tolls as “a very small part of the local transport plan that is out for consultation” and said neither the council scrutiny committee, which met in December, or the local transport forum had raised it as an issue.
The document has also been discused by local town and community councils and Cllr Brocklesby said she understood Chepstow Town Council considered proposals in the plan aren’t feasible but hadn’t specifically raised the issue of the bridge tolls.
The consultation on the local transport plan runs until January 5.