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Severn Crossings

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2008

9. What recent discussions her Department has had with the operator of the M48 Severn bridge and the second Severn crossing. (180543)

The Highways Agency has regular contact with the operator of the Severn crossings. The most recent quarterly meeting was held on 21 November 2007. Other meetings are held to discuss ongoing issues.

Tolls on the Severn bridges increased again in the new year. It is now £5.30 for a car, which is a large burden for many of my constituents, particularly commuters. Added to that is the problem of not being able to pay by any modern electronic payment method; people can pay only by cash or cheque. Will the Minister meet me to discuss reviewing the charges with the operator, so that we can offer better discounts for those who live locally, and to discuss the ongoing issue of the method of payment of the tolls?

I would be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, who I know is extremely concerned about the issue. The Severn Bridges Act 1992 set the tolls for the two bridges, and set out the process for increases. The Act requires the tolls to be increased by inflation and rounded to the nearest 10p. That increase is applied every December. I certainly take on board the point about the use of methods such as credit cards to make payment easier. A working group has been set up to consider the financial and technical barriers to that. When we meet, I shall be more than happy to update her on the progress that is being made.

The Minister may have seen media reports suggesting that the suspension wires on the old Severn bridge are fracturing at a precipitous rate as a result of corrosion. Have the Government made any assessment of the implications for the durability of the bridge and for public safety?

I was not aware of those media reports. I am certainly prepared to look into the issue and write to the hon. Gentleman about the assessment made.