DfT pulls off ‘risky’ U-turn on Severn bridges


On Transport Network’s sister website, Highways, we reveal that Highways England has suffered a hit to its finances of around £45m after responsibility for the Severn Crossings was transferred to it without additional funding.

The issue seems to stem from a change of heart during the 2017 General Election campaign when a Government proposal to cut tolls on the two bridges and definitely not abolish them became a Conservative pledge to...well, abolish them.

As we have reported, tolls to use the original (M48) Severn Bridge and what is now the M4 Prince of Wales Bridge westbound, otherwise known as a ‘tax on entering Wales’, were abolished last month.

This became possible when the crossings came back under public control in January 2018 after toll income hit a financial target, allowing the Department for Transport (DfT) to forego the roughly £100m a year in revenue the tolls brought in.

However it gave Highways England no additional funding to maintain them until the end of Roads Period 1 in 2020.

While the abolition of tolls might at first seem to be not so much as a U-turn as a continuation of the same direction of travel, it’s worth looking back at the DfT’s January 2017 consultation on the proposed reduction of charges, which gave a number of reasons why abolition was not merely ‘not proposed’ but seemingly out of the question.


These included the stark statement that ‘this would put at risk the future of the Crossings’, not least because: ‘The reality is that given the size and complexity of these structures there will always be a cost to ensuring their safe operation.’

The document pointed out that ‘the Crossings cost approximately £15m each year to operate and maintain’ and that ‘Highways England estimate that likely resurfacing of the Severn Bridge after the end of the concession period will cost in the region of £12m’.

In addition: ‘The Government is also concerned that reduced tolls could result in increased traffic and congestion in areas surrounding the Crossings, both in Bristol and along the M4 in Wales, where there are already concerns about congestion levels. Reducing the tolls by 50% would allow us to assess the impact, on the Crossing and more generally, of increased traffic flows.’

Highways has calculated that the costs of maintaining and operating the bridges between January 2018 and March 2020 will be approximately £33m, plus at least £12m resurfacing costs, which could increase.

The DfT consultation document described the idea that the additional traffic caused but abolishing tolls could lead to increased economic growth and therefore higher tax revenues that could pay ongoing costs as an ‘an attractive theory’ but an uncertain one, warning that ‘the taxpayer could end up out of pocket, or the future of the Crossings could be put at risk’.

It continued: ‘For this reason, and in line with the Government’s longstanding policy that users of estuarial crossings should pay for their upkeep, the Government is not consulting on the complete removal of the tolls. Instead the Government believes it is better to put in place a more sure and sustainable plan that balances the needs of users and taxpayers and guarantees the continued running and upkeep of the Crossings.’

Users of estuarial crossings elsewhere, such as at Dartford or the Humber, who continue to pay for their upkeep have of course noticed. Last September, the Liverpool Echo observed: ‘With a date soon to be released for when South Wales' Severn Bridges tolls will be scrapped, many in the North West may wonder when their own infrastructure to cross the River Mersey will also be free of charge.’

On the other hand, users of the new Queensferry Crossing across the Forth get off Scot-free.

In addition, the DfT consultation stated: ‘During the course of the concession the Government incurred approximately £63m to cover the costs of fixing latent defects on the Severn Bridge and this money still needs to be recovered.’

While the DfT told Highways that the £63m was recovered, presumably from the near £100m income it received before tolls were abolished in December, Highways England has said that it remains committed to resurfacing the original bridge from its own pocket.

It will also have to fund ongoing maintenance from its 2015-2020 budget until it feels the benefit of an increased allocation for 2020-25 under the National Roads Fund.

Who would have thought such a thing possible? Not someone who read the DfT’s 2017 consultation.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus
highways jobs

Air Quality Monitoring Project Manager

Birmingham City Council
£34,788 - £42,683
Seeking a skilled and dedicated individual with a background in environmental protection and air quality to... Birmingham, West Midlands
Recuriter: Birmingham City Council

Roadworks Inspector

Transport for London
£32,500 plus substantial benefits
You’ll review thousands of roadworks reports sent by other operational TfL staff and the Met Police andñ... Southwark, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Transport for London

Head of Planning Policy, Transport & Infrastructure Planning

Berwick Partners
Competitive Salary
This is a senior position within Be First’s Planning & Building Control Team, and you will... London (Greater)
Recuriter: Berwick Partners

Transportation Engineer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£29,636 - £33,799 per annum
Applicants should hold an appropriate qualification, preferably to degree level, and have knowledge of transportation issues. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Trading Standards Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£36,630 - £42,490 per annum
Seeking to recruit highly motivated and experienced Trading Standards Officer’s to join our busy Business and Consumer Services team. Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Nature Conservation Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£36,630 - £42,490
Exciting opportunity now exists for a dynamic nature conservation professional, to be the lead officer for the Council in all matters relating to Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Environmental Health Officer/Enforcement

Brent Council
£35,724 - £41,706 p.a. inc.
Looking to recruit an Environmental Health Officer / Enforcement Officer preferably with experience of... Wembley, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Surface Water Engineer (Maternity Cover)

Essex County Council
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Excellent Benefits Package
The Surface Water Engineer contributes to the development and implementation of strategic plans, policy and best practice to improve the Council's knowledge and understanding of surface water flood risk and methods of management. England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Highways Project Engineer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£32,878 - 35,934 per annum
Exciting opportunity to provide technical highway input into all stages of development, within the... Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Highway Maintenance Senior Professional and Technical Officer - Level 1

Bristol City Council
£27,905 - £31,371
The job involves project managing and assisting senior colleagues with coordinating tasks and projects, using appropriate techniques to ensure.... City of Bristol
Recuriter: Bristol City Council

Highways Inspector

Hackney London Borough Council
£28,752 - £32,577
Seeking an experienced Highways Inspector to join the Highways Team. London (Greater)
Recuriter: Hackney London Borough Council

Street Lighting Technical Administrator

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£25,327 - £33,554 depending on skills
Are you looking for working arrangements that enhance your work-life balance? London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Environmental Protection Officer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£24,313 - £28,785 per annum
Looking to recruit officers to further strengthen our pool of Environmental Protection Officers who are responsible for... Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Citizen & Consumer Protection Officer – Environmental Health x2

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£29,636 - £33,799 per annum
Looking for a suitably qualified and competent Environmental Health Officer or Food Safety / Health and Safety Officer registered with the... Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior Pest Control Officer (Commercial)

Brent Council
£33,291 - £35,724 p.a. inc.
Looking for a pest control officer that bring additional expertise to the team and support the manager in developing and supporting our clients. Wembley, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Project Officer

Westminster City Council
£33,759 - £37,413 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity to support the CRP team in developing and delivering their projects. City of Westminster, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Westminster City Council

Strategic Planning and Growth Manager

Trafford Council
£46,572 – £49,529 per annum
As the Strategic Planning and Growth Manager, you will be responsible for... Trafford, Greater Manchester
Recuriter: Trafford Council

Quality & Performance Monitoring Officer

East Lindsey District Council
£26,999 - £31,371 per annum (Grade 6)
An exciting opportunity has arisen to cover a one year period of maternity leave for the role of Quality & Performance Monitoring Officer Louth, Lincolnshire
Recuriter: East Lindsey District Council

Service Director – Environment

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
Up to £100,000
ur new Service Director - Environment will have responsibility for all front-line environmental services, as well as licensing... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Environmental Health Officers

Camden London Borough Council
£32,473 - £42,490
Seeking Environmental Health Officers to contribute towards delivering the project objectives of addressing rogue... Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council