Wales politics

Severn bridges: Tories say Welsh government should run

Severn bridge
Image caption The Severn crossings are used by 80,000 vehicles a day

Welsh Conservatives have joined calls for the Welsh government to be handed control over the Severn bridges.

But a Tory minister in the UK government said devolving control of the crossings was not a "quick fix."

Tories in the Welsh assembly proposed cutting the bridge tolls and using the proceeds to spend on infrastructure.

Both bridges are run by a private company and the Welsh government has said it should take control when they return to public ownership.

In a speech on Friday, Tory transport spokesman Byron Davies put forward options for the future of the bridges.

They include keeping the existing toll structure and using the money raised to invest in infrastructure projects.

He also proposed a lower flat rate toll to cover the cost of maintaining the bridges.

'Economic growth'

"Devolution of the crossings - and future use of the tolls - has the real potential to help hard-pressed motorists, provide significant investment in Welsh infrastructure and encourage economic growth," he said.

Operated by private company Severn River Crossings Plc, the M4 and M48 bridges over the Severn are used by about 80,000 vehicles every day.

The company's concession will end when takings from the tolls reach £996m at 1989 prices, estimated to happen in about 2018.

However, Wales Office minister Stephen Crabb said there will continue to be a debt liability to taxpayers beyond that date.

"Devolution of bridges not a quick fix," he said on Twitter.

He also pointed out that the original M48 Severn bridge is entirely in England.

Earlier this month Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Mr Crabb also questioned a call by the Tory assembly group to make St David's Day a public holiday in Wales - a long standing Welsh Conservative policy.

Again writing on Twitter on 1 March, Mr Crabb said: "Dozens of smiling kids at school gates wearing nat costume, rugby shirts, daffs, etc. Wld it be same if today a public holiday?"

It costs £6.20 to take a car over the M4 and M48 bridges from England to Wales. Driving into England is free. The tolls for vans and minibuses is £12.40 and for lorries and coaches is £18.60.

A report for the Welsh government last year said abolishing the tolls would increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day.

It found businesses and commuters spend £80m a year crossing the bridges.

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