Here's what could happen when Severn Bridge tolls are scrapped - including Bristolians moving to
The confirmation that the Severn tolls will be scrapped in 2018 has been welcomed but people who use the bridges and live in the area will want urgent questions answered.
Here is what we know so far about the likely impact of free journeys across the bridges.
1. The toll booths go
The expectation is that the toll booths will be removed but the details of when that will happen are being worked out. Both governments would want to avoid any closure of the M4.
2. Traffic further down the M4 could be affected
Scrapping the tolls should lead to a significant increase in traffic. Back in January, the UK Government consulted on reducing the charge for a car from £6.70 to £3. The Department for Transport expected that to lead to a major increase in traffic growth.
It stated: “Forecasts indicate that traffic across the Severn Crossings will increase by 28% between 2018 and 2027. But as a result of our proposed toll levels... traffic growth will increase by 45%.”
A Welsh Government-commissioned report from 2012 calculated scrapping the tolls “would result in an estimated increase in traffic across of 12%”. This would be the equivalent of “around 11,000 vehicles per day”.
3. There'll be more pressure on dealing with the M4 relief road
The prospect of a surge in traffic on the M4 means the gridlock that brings vehicles to a standstill around Newport could get worse.
The Welsh Government’s modelling suggests that in the area immediately adjacent to the second Severn Crossing traffic levels would increase by around 20%. At the Brynglas tunnels this would filter down to around 7%, dropping to a 2% increase before Cardiff.
The Federation of Small Businesses is pressing for “a resolution for congestion problems on the M4”.
Conservative transport spokesman Russell George has sought to hike up the pressure on Welsh Government, saying: “After years of inaction and dawdling, motorists and business alike will be expecting Labour ministers to get on with the job of delivering the motorway grade solution necessary to help relieve congestion on the M4.”
4. People who work in Bristol and southwest England could try to move to south-east Wales where houses are cheaper
The earlier plan to reduce the tolls to £3 was reportedly enough to fuel inquiries about moving from the Bristol area so scrapping the entry costs altogether should have an even bigger impact.
In January, South Monmouthshire estate agent Charles Heaven told the BBC : “Houses are in huge demand. In fact, there aren’t enough houses. “Property is being snapped up within days, sometimes hours and prices are flying up.”
Many first-time buyers are understood to have been priced out of Bristol, where according to Zoopla the average amount paid for a detached house in the last 12 months is £434,570 ; this contrasts with £268,487 in Newport and £380,109 in Monmouth.
5. House prices in both regions could be affected
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”. It concluded it would be “reasonable” to expect this to have a knock-on effect on house prices and warned of the impact on the poorest residents.
Will the council build new homes to keep costs down or let prices rise?
The report stated: “Planning authorities would then be faced with the issue of supporting on-going affordability through increasing the supply of housing for private owner-occupation in response to the increased demand (through new development on top of current provision) or letting prices rise in ways that are likely to disadvantage poorer households who might be priced out of home ownership (through not increasing new development) in the county.”
6. A specific date on which the tolls will end will need to be picked
There's a lot of time between January 1 and December 31. And motorists on both sides of the Severn want to know whether they'll be benefiting sooner rather than later. But the UK Government will only commit to scrapping the tolls by the end of 2018.
Today the tolls are operated by Severn River Crossing PLC and as of January the crossings were expected to go into public ownership in “late 2017 or early 2018”. The precise details of when the tolls will cease to be collected are still being worked out.
In January, the UK Government planned to recover £63m spent fixing defects. Highways England has estimated that resurfacing work will cost in the region of £12m.