Transport Minister Denies Plans to Reinstate Tolls on Severn Bridges
THE man responsible for transport in Wales has said there are no plans to bring back tolls on the Severn bridges and that “there never have been”.
Lee Waters, who as deputy minister for climate change is in charge of transport policy, was responding to question about a council plan that suggested the reintroduction of charges to cross the bridges that connect South East Wales with the west of England could be on the cards.
Welsh Conservative transport spokesperson Natasha Asghar, raised the local transport plan, produced by Monmouthshire Council in the Senedd. It listed lobbying for the reintroduction of the charges, scrapped by the UK Governnent in 2018, as a potential scheme it could support.
Ms Ashgar said the idea was “hidden away” in the plan and noted the council said it could “reduce journeys to and from Bristol by private car and reduce traffic on the M4 and M48.”
The South East Wales member said reintroducing the tolls would have a “devastating impact on residents, businesses and drivers – and would be the final nail in the coffin for our economy.”
She asked: “Out of interest do you support the return of the tolls, and will you put pressure on your Labour colleagues at the council to make sure this horrendous idea is a non-starter?”
Mr Waters said the council had included the idea in its plan to look at a “whole series of things” but “concluded in this case this isn’t a desirable way to go forward”.
He added: “She (Ms Ashgar) knows that full well. There are no plans to reintroduce tolls on the Severn Bridge, there never have been plans and it was simply looking at all the options as is responsible to do so. They would not be fulfilling their jobs had they not looked at all the options.”
Mr Waters had said the council was “legally required” to produce a transport plan and to consider all options as part of it. Monmouthshire council has said the responsibility for producing such plans has now passed to combined committees of regional councils but it had created its own plan to influence the south east Wales document as well as address specific transport issues in the county.
The deputy minister criticised Ms Ashgar’s approach and her “grasp” of transport policy and how it is produced.
Ms Ashgar had raised her question in the Senedd a day after her South East Wales Conservative colleague Laura Ann Jones had requested a statment but was told an options appraisal by a county council wasn’t a matter for the deputy minister to comment on.
WALES’ deputy climate change minister won’t be making a statement on a council document that suggested the reintroduction of tolls on the Severn bridges could be on the cards.
Labour-led Monmouthshire County Council was criticised by Conservative politicians, including Welsh secretary and Monmouth MP David Davies, in December after its transport plan raised the idea.
Though the council has no power to charge drivers to cross either the Prince of Wales Bridge, or the Severn Bridge at Chepstow, it had listed lobbying for the reintroduction of charges, scrapped by the UK Government in 2018, as a potential scheme that could be supported in its local transport plan which it consulted on until early January.
Laura Anne Jones, a Conservative Senedd Member for South Wales East, asked for a statement to be made on the suggestion during a formal discussion on what issues should be raised in the Welsh Parliament.
Lesley Griffiths, who in her role as Trefnydd organises the Labour government’s business, was asked by Ms Jones if deputy climate change minister Lee Waters would make a statement on any conversations he’d had on the reintroduction of tolls, which the Labour leader of Monmouthshire County Council has already said isn’t being considered by the council.
Ms said: “This move would be disastrous as of course it would damage local businesses — part of the reason the UK Government saw fit to get rid of them — put off inward investment, deter tourists from coming to my region of Wales, and Labour’s plan to reinstate the Severn tolls would be yet another tax on hard-pressed residents and businesses.
“So, I’d like the minister to release a statement setting out what conversations he’s had with the Welsh Government and also the UK Government on this, as it’s crucial that this idea is put to bed before it gathers any pace.”
However Ms Griffiths dismissed the request for a statement and told Ms Jones: “My understanding is that that was an options appraisal. I don’t, again, see it as a matter for the deputy minister for climate change.”
During the same question Ms Jones has also asked for a statement on “how important the government still feels free breakfasts are and what impact a £2 charge would have, especially on low-income families across Wales.”
Ms Jones noted free breakfasts for primary schools pupils is a “long-standing” Welsh Government policy and raised her question due to Monmouthshire council’s proposal to double the £1 breakfast club charge introduced in 2019 when the Conservatives controlled the council and Ms Jones was a member of the council.
Ms Griffiths replied: “There won’t be a statement reiterating the Welsh Government’s support for free breakfast clubs. Our position is very well known in relation to that.”
She also described Ms Jones as “late to the party in support of free breakfast clubs” claiming: “I thought the Conservatives were opposed to those”.
Councils are entitled to provide charge for childcare for those attending breakfast clubs before the free breakfast session starts. Monmouthshire, which is having to make £8.4 million in savings this year, has said without charge it could have to make staff who run the clubs redundant.
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