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Welsh ministers query Severn Bridge maintenance regime

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.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Surely, as on many such Own, and O&M contracts, the Concessionaire has to hand back the Bridges at the end of the concession period in a fit for purpose condition, i.e. able to accommodate ongoing operations at full design traffic capacities. As such he would have to accommodate whatever works and costs for such remedial works as are deemed needed prior to handing back the works.

    Or is there some get out clause in the contract such as "unforeseen circumstances" covering the type and extent of corrosion encountered. However, as the Owner and Concessionaire, would he not have accepted full design responsibility in any case, and would not the Emley Moor TV Mast failure ruling regarding absolute warrenties apply, regardless of how unforeseen were the changed circumstances or whatever was the accepteed design practice and knowledge of such problems at the time of the Works implementation? ?

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