THE Severn crossings could revert to public ownership as early as autumn 2017 and preparations need to be made, the chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee has said.
David Davies has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin urging the UK Government to set out a detailed handover plan.
The M48 Severn Bridge and M4 Second Severn Crossing are due to come back into public ownership in April 2018 once the accumulated debt from construction costs has been paid to Severn River Crossing (SRC) Plc.
But Monmouth MP Mr Davies, who led a parliamentary inquiry into the economic impact of the Severn tolls in 2010, believes the handover could be reached several months earlier.
“Changes to corporation tax and an increase in traffic due to low fuel prices mean that the sum promised to SRC will inevitably be paid months earlier than expected,” he said.
“I believe it could happen as soon as October or November 2017, so we have less than two years to put a proper plan in place.”
Government ownership should see an “immediate removal” of the 20 per cent VAT applied to the Severn Bridge tolls, Mr Davies added, as under EU rules it would not be chargeable on a government-owned piece of infrastructure.
Furthermore, recent figures obtained by Mr Davies from the Department for Transport show SRC collected a net revenue of £91.4m in 2014 – of which just £13.16m was operational expenditure (including maintenance). £17m was paid in VAT.
“These figures prove there is scope for a huge cut in tolls,” he said.
“However, reducing the tolls would increase traffic levels and could lead to big queues on the toll plaza unless SRC introduces an electronic pre-pay system similar to the one used for the London congestion charge.
“This would take time and require government involvement. As far as I am aware, nothing has been done yet.
“A lot of local people work as toll collectors and I know some of them are getting concerned at the lack of information about what the future holds post-concession.”
The Welsh Affairs Committee is likely to “want to look further into this” and will be pressing the government for the latest estimate of the handover date, Mr Davies confirmed.