Welsh Assembly Member Chris Franks has slammed the Severn River Crossing company - the firm that owns and operated both Severn bridges - for not investing enough in systems to improve the cables in the original M48 bridge, saying the two bridges could force “significant” debts onto the public purse when returned to public ownership in 2016.
Plaid Cymru AM Chris Franks cited figures released by the Highways Agency under a freedom on Information request, which shows that toll revenue generated £225.7M in the three years from 2006, but spent just £15M on treating cable corrosion on the older M48 crossing.
The M48 crossing currently restricts vehicles of 7.5t or more to just one lane in each direction, but further restrictions will be put in place should the cables deteriorate further.
A “medium impact” scenario would involve the cables deteriorating to within predicted limits, but this would limit all traffic to just one lane in each direction.
A final “high impact” scenario would see the bridge’s cables deteriorating ‘greater than predicted with significant further loss of capacity,’ and force the crossing to be closed to all traffic, and decommissioned if remedial work is deemed too expensive.
Franks said he has written to the new transport secretary Philip Hammond, raising “serious concerns about the impact on the public purse once the two bridges are returned to public ownership which, I understand, is due to take place in 2016.
“Plaid has been informed that, since 2006, a total of £15M has been spent on main cable work on the first Severn Crossing and the Highways Agency is predicting further spending of £5.8m over the next five years. Since 2006, £225,733,000 has been collected in toll revenue.”
“Plaid is seeking assurances that any significant work that may be necessary on the first Severn Crossing takes place before the bridge is returned to public ownership.
“I do not believe it would be acceptable that a private operator, who has reaped considerable revenues and profits from the building of the second bridge, should be able to pass on significant future costs to public bodies.”