With the June 2017 general election approaching, the UK’s political parties are announcing their policies in the hope of wooing voters.
Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that if a Conservative government is elected in June, the party will scrap the Severn Bridge toll.
Opened in 1966, the bridge links the west of England with south Wales across the river Severn. Currently, drivers of new and used cars must pay £6.70 to cross into Wales. The cost for Lorries and coaches is £20, and van drivers pay £13.40, there is no charge for the eastward crossing from Wales into England.
The toll money goes towards maintaining the bridge, which costs an estimated £7m each year. Currently, the bridge is scheduled to return to public ownership in 2018, and will then be maintained by the Highways Agency.
At this time, a proposed reduction of the toll fee will bring it to £3 for cars, less than half the current charge. However, under Theresa May’s new proposal, the toll will be abolished altogether.
The main argument in favour of removing the toll focuses on trade, and the economic boost to the area that free crossing of the Severn will bring. The motor trade will be just one area to benefit from the move, with the ability to transport cars on trade plates from England for less financial outlay.
While the Welsh Assembly and other political parties are agreed that scrapping the toll would be a positive move, not everyone approves of the way the Conservatives have introduced this policy, with the election just weeks away.
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Members of other political parties view the move by Theresa May as an insurance policy designed to boost the party’s standing, particularly among Welsh voters, rather than genuine concern for the economic welfare of Wales.
The Labour party has announced its commitment to working with the Welsh government to resolve the issue of the toll. A spokesperson for UKIP Wales accused the Prime Minister of stealing a policy which UKIP had held for some time, and suggested that this was likely to be an empty election promise. The Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru also spoke out against what they see as a cynical attempt to win favour.
With most, if not all, major parties now speaking out in favour of removing the toll, it remains to be seen what will happen once the election is out of the way.