The tolls on the Severn Bridges are about to be scrapped, ending an 800 year old tradition – that entering or leaving Wales be something to be paid for. Entering, well, not so much as a thing of value, leaving definitely. However, there is a deeper point here. Providing those bridges costs money, that money must come from somewhere. Why shouldn’t it be those who wish to travel in and out of Wales which provide that cash? Why should the bill be dumped upon the rest of us?
Motorists are to be granted a welcome early Christmas present as journeys over the Severn bridges get set to go free for the first time in 52 years. Sunday is the final day that the current fee of £5.60 will be required for cars heading from England into South Wales and work is being done to remove toll booths from the original Severn Crossing and the Prince of Wales Bridge. Both are undergoing changes to create a route that means drivers will no longer have to stop to pay, just as thousands of people prepare to travel home for the festive period.
Those of us from the South West have always thought that the tolls were the wrong way around anyway. Paying to enter Wales? Surely the thing of value is being able to leave, which is where the toll should be levied. Leaving such regionalisms aside, there is a proper point here:
Sunday marks the final day of a centuries’ old tax of paying to cross between south Wales and south-west England before the toll is removed. Charges on both the M4 and M48 Severn bridges are being abolished – saving commuters as much as £1,400 a year. Passengers have had to pay to cross the Severn Estuary, with its treacherous tides, since Roman times and the first recorded ferry crossing was in 1775. “Monday will be a very historic day,” said historian Anne Rainsbury. “It’ll be the first time you can cross the Severn Estuary for free.”
History teaches us lessons and why not learn the one that crossing to or from Wales has costs which need to be paid for?
Sure, perhaps the mortgages associated with the bridges have been paid off. But there are still maintenance costs that someone has to pay. Who is that should pay those costs? Someone in Kent chips in their tax money for infrastructure they’ll never get within a 100 miles of? Or someone in Cardiff desperate for the civilisation of Bristol? That Bristol is considered civilisation telling us something of Wales.
A fair, just and righteous outcome would be that those who use the bridges should be the people who pay for them. It being users who are gaining the benefit so they should carry the costs. Plus, of course, a proper charge will mean fewer Welsh entering the South West of England, a result to be devoutly desired.