Written by Andy Hughes
It was a major pledge of Labour and the Conservatives during the General Election in June, however following the result of a hung Parliament, scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls could have faded from the political landscape as the Government looked to focus on delivering Brexit.
Yet, in July the Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns MP, announced the Government’s firm commitment to scrapping the tolls by the end of 2018. In his announcement, the Secretary of State highlighted that the decision to abolish the tolls "sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy.”
It has been calculated that approximately 25 million journeys are made across the two bridges annually. It has also been estimated that commuters who use the bridge daily could save about £1,400 a year. However, another report has suggested that even halving the tolls would mean a 17% increase in traffic along the M4 and surrounding areas either side of the crossings – which would exacerbate issues at existing pinch points along the main arterial road in south Wales.
In addition to the impact on the road infrastructure, there are several other areas which are likely to be affected by scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls:
With both property and land values being more affordable in south-east Wales than the areas just over the Severn such as Bristol, Cheltenham and Bath, there is a possibility that people looking to purchase their first property or move further up the property ladder may look across the bridge now that they will not be required to pay toll costs as part of their daily commute.
Indeed, a Welsh Government-commissioned study in 2012 said there were grounds to expect people from the Greater Bristol area to be drawn to Monmouthshire by “lower house prices and reduced commuting costs”.
Underlining this prediction is the fact that, in 2016, the average house price in Newport was £153,338. In Magor (Monmouthshire) it was £227,793. However, in Bristol the average house price in 2016 was significantly higher at £266,700. Furthermore, in an interview with the BBC in early 2017 Charles Haven, owner of Crown Estate Agents in Chepstow highlighted that "Eighty per cent of people buying houses in Monmouthshire from me are coming from Bristol", suggesting that many west of England commuters are already shifting their attention over the border.
In addition to keeping between £6.70-£20 in the pockets of bridge users – be they individual commuters or big businesses, scrapping the Severn Bridge Tolls is seen as a way of providing a significant boost the local area.
It has been suggested that scrapping the tolls would provide a boost of up to £100 million for the local economy, which would not only offer assistance to SMEs, but would also help support the regeneration of areas on both sides of the border through increased spending power and the creation of employment opportunities.
What does this mean?
At the moment, very little. However should current trends continue, and commuters in the west of England continue to look over the border in anticipation of the tolls being scrapped, it is likely that increased demand for properties in Wales will have a significant impact on the need for new housing in the immediate local authorities of Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Newport. Linked to this, there will also need to be some careful forward planning from these authorities, and others further east along the M4, to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is put in place so that south east Wales does not grind to a halt as a result of increased traffic.
At Remarkable Engagement, we have an award-winning team of communications professionals, specialising in engagement with the institutions of government at the local, regional and national levels. Our Wales team, located a short distance from the National Assembly, offers a broad range of experience and knowledge across the devolved policy areas. Should you wish to know more about the potential impact of scrapping the Severn Bridge Tolls on both sides of the border or what opportunities this could afford you, please get in touch with our Welsh office via firstname.lastname@example.org or 02921 670 468.