8 December 2023
Plans to develop a new way forward for funding and operating the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry have been backed by members of the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee.
The aim of the Tamar 2050 programme is to secure the long-term future of the crossings by increasing income and reducing costs. It will bring together existing activities into a single transformational programme and will be further developed in partnership with the local community and businesses which use the crossings.
During the past two years a number of measures at Tamar Crossings have produced efficiencies and savings of more than £10 million. These have included moving to contactless payments at both the bridge and the ferry, successfully trialling a new method to replace the ‘rockers’ which support the Bridge, negotiating a new energy contract, reducing energy consumption through a range of measures include replacing bridge street lighting with more energy efficient LED units, and increased marketing of the Visitor Centre.
The 2050 programme will build on this work by:
- reviewing how the crossings currently function and identifying further ways of improving efficiency
- exploring further ways of keeping toll prices as low as possible whilst providing greater certainty for regular users of the crossings – this will include continuing to lobby for financial support from the Government and progressing the adoption of indexation to help avoid big jumps in toll prices
- investigating marketing opportunities
- investigating further options for using technology to improve the efficiency of the tolls including free flow tolling through the use of ANPR cameras and potential changes to the current plaza such as ‘card only’ booths
The programme will be developed through engagement with local stakeholders and will also seek to invest in local talent by providing more apprenticeships for local people and building on existing women in STEM events. The Joint Committee has also committed to investigate ways of making the ferries carbon neutral and to be more actively involved in the wider transport agenda for the River Tamar.
Whilst the proposed transformation programme will help to secure the long-term future of the crossings and revitalise the relationship with the community, it will not address the immediate financial issues. The impact of much higher-than-expected levels of inflation, including extreme rises in energy and fuel costs, and ongoing reduced traffic levels, has created a significant financial deficit which, without intervention, will continue to grow.
Although members of the Joint Committee have continued to work with the two parent authorities – Cornwall Council and Plymouth Council – and local MPs to lobby the Government to provide funding for the vital crossings, the Government has turned down these requests for support. Lobbying will continue, but there is a need to plan for the future without external support.
To address the current shortfall and provide the funding needed to maintain service levels, the Joint Committee has, therefore, reluctantly made the decision to request an increase in tolls.
The recommendation is for a cash toll of £3 and a tag toll of £1.50.
However members also expressed concerns at the impact of increasing tag tolls on local residents and it was agreed to look at different options for increasing the level of tag discount in the future at the next meeting.
Information on the proposals to address the financial shortfall were sent to more than 31,000 people who used the crossings on two set days, as well as up to 100 stakeholders and partners, including local MPs, Parish and Town Councils, emergency services, high volume users of the crossings, highway authorities and motorist and industry bodies. Information was also published on the Tamar Crossings website with a link to the online questionnaire and an email address for people to send their comments.
There were over 7,000 responses to the public consultation, more than double the amount in the 2022 consultation. Of these a majority [57%] understandably wanted no change in tolls. A majority [58%] of regular users [those with a tag] recognised the need for some increase by selecting one of the four increase options rather than the “no change” option.
Despite the realism of many respondents, there was no clear mandate for any one of the increase options. More respondents supported a larger increase for all cash tolls (at both the bridge and the ferry) with the tag discount remaining the same but that was a choice of less than 1 in 5 respondents (19%). The only other option to get double digit support was that which favoured a larger increase in both cash and tag tolls at the ferry. Some 14% of responses preferred this approach.
“We have considered all the responses to the recent public consultation on how to address the financial shortfall” said Joint Chairs Councillor Martin Worth and Councillor Neil Hendy. “We recognise that many local people have no choice but to use the crossings. Even with the tag discount, the cost-of-living crisis means that some will struggle to cope with any further increases.
“However, while we will be building on existing activities to transform the way the crossings are operated and funded in the future, we are facing unprecedented financial challenges now. We need to ensure that we have funding to deliver these services so that the bridge and ferries can continue to deliver the safe, reliable crossings that the community relies upon.
“We will be continuing to lobby the Government for funding and can modify or withdraw the request to increase tolls at any time if the Government does decide to provide financial support. “
Following today’s decision, a further report setting out the impact of the Joint Committee’s recommendations on the budget for 2024-25 will be presented at an extraordinary meeting of the Joint Committee on 12 January 2024.
The Tamar 2050 programme, budget and recommendation for toll increases will then be considered by both Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council.
Changing the rates for cash tolls requires authorisation from the Government. If the request to increase tolls is approved by the parent authorities a formal request will be submitted to the Department of Transport. This will mean that any increase in cash tolls is not likely to come into effect until November 2024.