The 5p toll bridge is sold for £1.08m

By Lauren Turner
Thursday 03 December 2009 17:19

A toll bridge over the River Thames was sold for £1,080,000 at auction today.

Swinford Toll Bridge, near Eynsham, Oxfordshire, is governed by its own Act of Parliament which makes it a tax haven.

The bridge, in Conservative Party leader David Cameron's Witney constituency, is one of the last toll bridges in Britain still in private hands.

Its buyer is exempt from paying income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax or VAT on the bridge because of the act passed in 1767 by George III granting private ownership to the Earl of Abingdon.

Motorists pay 5p per car, and up to 50p per lorry, to cross the bridge, a Grade II*-listed structure.

Just under four million vehicles use the bridge to get in and out of Oxford city centre, which is six miles away, every year and it is especially busy during rush hour. It has a gross annual income of around £190,000.

Tolls are collected manually from a toll booth at the northern end of the bridge. They are not collected overnight, but the new owner may have the chance to install an automatic barrier and pay machine, which could bring in an extra £25,000 a year.

The new owner will be responsible for upkeep of the bridge.

Local residents have claimed the bridge causes traffic jams and pollution and have called for Mr Cameron to scrap the toll.

A two-storey Grade II-listed Cotswold stone cottage next to the bridge is included in the sale, along with a car park and 4.36 acres of land, which contains part of the riverbank and an area of woodland.

It had been expected to reach between £1 million and £1.25 million at the auction at the Park Lane Hotel, central London, held by property consultant Allsop. Bidding for the bridge started at £800,000.

A total of 770 people signed a petition asking for the local council to purchase the bridge and scrap the tolls.

But in a statement after the sale, a council spokesman said: "Oxfordshire County Council was not financially in a position to buy the bridge."

A resident, who has lived in Swinford for more than 40 years, said she wished the council had bought the bridge.

The woman, who did not want to give her name, said: "It would have been the best thing to do. Whoever has bought it will have a job to keep it up.

"The grounds around the bottom of my garden are part of the land that goes with the bridge, and they're never cleaned.

"I hope the new owner cleans it up a bit. We'll just have to wait and see what they do."

The identity of the new owner of Swinford Toll Bridge is set to remain a mystery.

Neil Mackilligin, senior partner at Allsop, said: "He definitely doesn't want his name revealed. He is a private, UK-based individual, but he is not local to the area of the bridge."

Auctioneer Duncan Moir, also of Allsop, told potential bidders today: "I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of offering something quite as unusual as this."

He called the bridge "a wonderful piece of British history" before starting the auction.

Mr Mackilligin said it had been hoped the bridge would fetch a higher sum because of the "massive interest" in the sale, but added of its final selling price: "It is what it is worth.

"It's one of those lots that, on the face of it, is absolutely wonderful.

"There are not that many ancient monuments that we get to sell, and the tax-free aspect is most unusual."

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