A SUGGESTION of reinstating Severn bridge tolls was made by an outside body, the councillor responsible for a plan which included the idea has said.
But the Labour group that leads Monmouthshire council has said it has put a stop to “inaccurate” accusations it wanted bring back the charges after confirming during a council debate it had no plans to do so.
The possibility of a return to charging to cross the two bridges over the Severn was raised at the end of December after the proposal was included in Monmouthshire County Council’s local transport plan.
It suggested the possibility of lobbying the UK Government to bring back the fares – and prompted strong criticism from Monmouth Conservative MP David Davies, who is the Welsh secretary at Westminster, and the county council’s Tory opposition group.
At the first meeting of the full council since the transport plan was published Conservative group leader Cllr Richard John brought a motion asking the council to make “revisions” to the plan including “remove the proposal to reinstate the Severn Bridge tolls.”
But council Labour leader Mary Ann Brocklesby and other members insisted there was no plan to seek to have tolls reinstated.
The defeated Conservative motion also expressed “regret at a lack of engagement” over the plan and “disappointment” at some proposals. Following the meeting Llanelly Hill member Cllr Brocklesby said: “What we have done is to defeat a totally mischievous motion which was merely there to try to embarrass us.”
During the meeting the cabinet member responsible for transport Cllr Catrin Maby said the tolls suggestion had been made by “external stakeholders” consulted on the plans, though she didn’t specify by who. She said among groups consulted were the bus operators, local transport groups, Transport for Wales and the Welsh Government, which has also denied any plan to reinstate the tolls.
Cllr Maby said it was clearly stated in the plan which of the proposals didn’t meet policy but were included for debate. The plan listed them as projects for further consideration or review despite them not completely aligning with current Welsh Government policy.
“Unlike the opposition we welcome ideas and debate however unpopular,” said Cllr Maby.
She also said a proposal for a workplace parking levy – that could have seen drivers charged as much as £500 a year to park in private car parks – had been made by an external stakeholder in a workshop, but confirmed it wouldn’t be taken up by the council.
Deputy leader Paul Griffiths said the plan was a consultation document “designed to encourage debate” and “not a statement of policy proposed by the cabinet”.
He said he “totally opposed” reinstating the tolls, a workplace parking levy and a congestion charge, which he said the council has no plans for. In response to why they hadn’t been removed from the document he said: “Was I supposed to say those ideas should be vetoed and not included in some sort of Stalinist manner because I disagree, no other views should be sought upon them?”
Cllr John, who accused Labour councillors of not having read their own plan, described the suggestion of reinstating the tolls, and the workplace parking levy, as “whacky” ideas “that Jeremy Corbyn would be quite proud of” but said there were other elements on supporting rail and bus travel and walking and cycling which his group could support.
But he criticised a lack of consultation with local chambers of trade and bus user groups and said the council had spent £73,000 producing a plan it wasn’t required to do. It said it had done so to influence the transport plan the Cardiff Capital Region must produce.
The Mitchell Troy and Trellch member, who asked why plans the administration didn’t support were included, said: “This document needs some major revisions before you give your colleagues in the rest of South Wales some new ideas about new ways to punish motorists before putting in place alternatives to the car.”
Independent group leader, Magor councillor Frances Taylor, said she noted the issue had been raised ahead of the upcoming general election and said she regretted “more thought” hadn’t been given to unintended consequence of removing the tolls, in 2018, and said:
“The opportunity could have been taken at the time to consider a much smaller toll for a public transport levy.”
She said while “I may have empathy with some points Cllr John has made” she couldn’t support his motion.
Chepstow Bulwark Labour councillor Armand Watts said when the plan was discussed in the scrutiny committee he chairs the toll issue wasn’t raised. He said: “It’s only when David Davies woke up one day and thought he could phone the Daily Mail it became an issue.”
Labour cabinet member Martyn Groucutt said the claim the council wanted tolls reinstated was: “An attempt by a worried man and his sidekicks singing a worried song trying to scare the people of Monmouthshire. Roll on the General Election.”