Academic claims high tolls on Severn Bridge don't harm economy
AN expert has dismissed claims that Severn Bridge toll rises will harm the economy.
As reported in The Post the annual rise in charges to £6.20 per car has re-ignited the long-running debate surrounding the cost of using the crossings.
Tolls for vans and minibuses rose 30 pence on New Year's Day to £12.40 while tolls for lorries and coaches the cost rose by 50 pence to £18.60.
The bridges are now the most expensive road tolls in the UK and campaigners have claimed that the charges are stifling the economy on both sides of the Bristol Channel.
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The crossings are owned by a French firm but are due to pass back into public ownership in 2018.
Campaigners and the Welsh Assembly have long called for subsidies to be introduced to help hard-pressed motorists.
However, transport expert Professor Stuart Cole has carried out a survey which found the charges had little effect on investment in the area or on the tourism industry.
Mr Cole, professor of transport at the University of Glamorgan, said: "The question is, when the Severn bridge is transferred in 2018 to the public sector, will it stay with the Department of Transport or will it be transferred to the Welsh government.
"If it comes to the Welsh government, then it has an option of either using it as a revenue generator to pay for other schemes like electrification of the main railway line, new stretched of the M4 and other schemes, or it can reduce the toll.
"And there is not enough evidence at the moment to suggest that people are dissuaded from inward investment or tourists are being dissuaded in large numbers from coming to South Wales because the toll is there."
The French-owned Severn River Crossings company will hand over the bridges when takings from the tolls reach £996 million at 1989 prices, which at current levels is expected to happen in five years time.
According to a report businesses and private motorists spend more than £80 million every year on tolls.
John Warman, organiser for the Campaign against Severn bridge tolls, previously told The Post tolls could hit the £10 mark within a matter of years if urgent action was not taken. He claimed the tolls were a licence to print money and would continue to stunt the economy at a time when austerity measures were hitting businesses and individuals.
"The costs of building the two Severn bridges have already been paid for and the campaign to abolish the tolls will be stepped up in the new year, we are not going to go away," he said.