Scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls will lift the barrier between South Wales and the West, boosting the economic potential of both regions, say business leaders.
But after it was revealed that the move will create 16,000 more car journeys in Bristol every day, they acknowledge that the “huge environmental and logistical challenges” cannot be ignored and say the Government must be proactive in its approach.
Darren Jones, MP for Bristol North West, has also warned that serious investment in better infrastructure will be needed to prevent gridlock and has expressed frustration at the lack of action.
“Now we know – 16,000 extra cars are expected on our roads every single day – that’s 6 million a year – and with no thought for advance mitigation,” said Jones.
“It is no good for those responsible to say they are ‘looking into how to invest in our roads’. It also no good to just keep focusing on roads and cars.”
He is calling on the Tory regional mayor Tim Bowles to commit some of the sizeable West of England Combined Authority (Weca) budget towards a north Bristol transport fund to make much-needed improvements to roads, rail, bus, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
In a terse statement, Weca said the MP had been offered meetings but had not taken them up.
Speaking on behalf Bristol’s business community, Phil Smith, managing director at Business West, agreed the solution is more investment in transport.
“We are broadly in favour of the decision to scrap the Severn Bridge toll; a psychological barrier has been lifted which will bring businesses and communities in South Wales and the West of England closer together,” he said.
“Despite this, however, we cannot ignore the huge environmental and logistical challenges that the toll’s removal is likely to entail. The Government needs to be proactive in engaging business communities on both sides of the Severn to ensure that the project is actually delivering long-term and sustainable economic benefit.
“In light of the potential environmental impact of increased traffic flow, we urge Government to view this move as a stepping stone toward achieving greater connectivity between the West of England and South Wales and that they consider more sustainable alternatives more closely in the future.
“We were disappointed that railroad electrification was put on hold in Bristol and the West of England, and my hope is that by scrapping the Severn Bridge toll that this vital piece of green infrastructure doesn’t drop off the agenda altogether.”
Meanwhile, new figures obtained from Highways England show a big rise in traffic using the bridge, with a 10 per cent jump this summer compared to last.
Analysts are putting the increase down to the VAT being removed from the price of the bridge.
Rob Bertels, an account manager at Wildfire Comms in Bath Road’s Paintworks development, commutes to work from Newport every day.
He currently takes the train, which works out at about £12 a day on a season ticket, but admits that he would consider driving this distance each day once the tolls are abolished at the end of 2018, as it would be the cheaper option (around £7 a day in fuel as opposed to £13).
In December, secretary of state for Wales Alun Cairns said the tolls “represented a drag and barrier to Wales’ economic growth” and a 2012 Welsh Government report estimated free access to Wales would bring a £100m boost to the region.
But questions remain over its impact on traffic, particularly in Bristol, with the Government saying scrapping the tolls will remove a £1,400-a-year tax on commuting between Wales and the West Country’s biggest city.
There will be a transport forum to discuss the issue at at Henbury and Brentry Community Centre on October 19. More details will be released shortly.
Jones is encouraging anyone concerned about further traffic chaos to sign his petition calling for at least a £50m north Bristol Transport Fund: www.darren-jones.co.uk/transport-fund/.
Jack Pitts is a local democracy reporter for Bristol.