Welsh MPs snub Severn bridge ceremony

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

WELSH MPs yesterday boycotted a ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the pounds 300m second Severn crossing in protest at high toll charges on the Severn Bridge.

Instead of enjoying a celebration, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, and David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Wales, had to defend the decision to allow a largely French-owned, private consortium to build the bridge and operate the two crossings.

The objections by Welsh MPs crossed party lines. Roger Evans, Conservative MP for Monmouth, said: 'Many small businesses in my constituency have been affected by the recent increases (in tolls) and many constituents travel across the Severn Bridge daily in the course of their work. I did not deem it appropriate to celebrate with those responsible for inflicting such hardships on my constituents; one bottle of champagne would pay the tolls of a constituent travelling to work over the bridge for a week.' The imposition of tolls pounds 8 return for commercial vehicles and pounds 2.80 for cars was said by Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West, to be an injustice on the people of Wales. 'It is a uniquely unfair penalty to Wales and seems to be a psychological barrier to development in the principality.'

There was also criticism that Laing-GTM, which will build the new bridge, was allowed to increase tolls by more than inflation.

Mr Flynn said: 'They put on this jamboree to publicise the new bridge and all it has highlighted is that the strategy they are using is despised by the people of Wales.'

Mr MacGregor said he was sad at the ceremony. The new bridge is due to open in 1996.