Bridge tolls set for big increases

Transport/ controls to be scrapped
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The Independent Online
IT COSTS 50 pence to get Frank Gregory to open the gate across the country road, which meanders around the Wales-Herefordshire border.

The gate straddles a back road from Hereford to Hay-on-Wye and forms the Whitney Toll, where each year 75,000 motorists pay to pass over a narrow wooden bridge.

In real terms, the toll has gone down since the bridge was built in 1797, when it cost four and a half old pence for a beast and carriage to pass over.

Now the Whitney toll, a modest operation compared to the nearby Severn Bridge, may soon be put on a more equal footing with its big brother, which charges pounds 3.70 return for a car crossing.

The 200-year-old bridge, and 16 other bridges, ferries and tunnels, some privately owned and others run by local authorities but all governed by acts of Parliament, may soon be deregulated, with price controls scrapped or modified.

The Department of Transport is consulting over the issue and a number of owners favour deregulation, which is one of the DoT's proposals.

So far, owners have said toll charges will not soar rapidly, and instead suggest fees will be pitched at a market level. Should they be too high, owners believe drivers would find alternative routes. That view is supported by increasing evidence that the annual hikes in the Severn Bridge toll have led to heavy congestion along alternative routes.

The DoT consultation involves 17 undertakings, ranging from the Whitney Bridge and the Dartmouth-Kingswear Higher Ferry to the local authority- owned Mersey Tunnels and Humber Bridge.

All 17 are statutory undertakings and must apply to the Secretary of State to revise tolls, which can be a cumbersome and expensive procedure involving public inquiries.

Michael Hawley, managing agent for Whitney and the Swinford Bridge toll in Oxfordshire, said: "I believe the DoT has put this forward because they saw what an incredibly tortuous and expensive business it was for us to get the toll increased.

"At Whitney, we spent a lot of money last year renovating it because there had been no substantial repairs since 1797. We restored it in Malaysian green heart timber, specified in the original 1797 act.

"I would like to see deregulation because I believe everybody should be free to find the level of their goods or services within a free marketplace. But if we put up the toll at Whitney to pounds 1 all you would have is no traffic, it would be suicidal."

Frank Gregory, who manages the Whitney operation, said: "Tolls like this are of enormous interest to people. It is one of the relics of the past."

17 toll chargers

Aldwark Bridge, North Yorks;

Bournemouth-Swanage motor road and ferry;

Cleddau Bridge in North Wales;

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol;

Dartmouth-Kingswear

higher ferry;

Dunham Bridge,

Lincolnshire;

Humber Bridge;

Itchen Bridge,

Southampton;

Lynton and Lynmouth lift;

Mersey tunnels;

Rixton and Warburton bridge, Manchester;

Shrewsbury Kingsland Bridge;

Swinford bridge, Oxon;

Tamar Bridge;

Tyne tunnel;

Whitchurch Bridge; Oxon; and Whitney on Wye bridge, Herefordshire.

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