Saturday, February 2, 2008

Another crossing, another ripoff?

I notice this week that the Leaders of Kent and Essex County Councils, Paul Carter and Paul Hanningfield were lobbying Government to provide a third Thames crossing. Hardly a week goes by without thousands of commuters suffering hours of nose to tail holdups because the Dartford Crossing just isn't sufficient to cope with today's traffic volumes.

But it did remind me that, when the Dartford Crossing was first approved by Government, Kent and Essex County Councils - being the strategic authorities at either end of the new crossing - were promised that, once the toll revenues had covered the cost of the construction, the ongoing anual revenue would be shared between the two councils for "traffic improvement and road schemes".

Opened in 1991, the costs were actually paid off by 2003. But once the Government saw the scale of the income, a strange 'short-term memory loss' kicked in and the 'cake' that was to be shared became a few crumbs - just a million pounds each per year out of what now amounts to over £50,000,000 income.

We should have counted ourselves lucky - because within a few years even that payout became £1m of 'borrowing approsal' - in other words the Government kindly allowed Essex and Kent to run up a million pounds of debt which they had to pay for from their own coffers. So the Government keeps the entire £50m a year windfall. Today, around 17,000 heavy goods vehicles use the crossing, and the Government are now looking to hike up the tolls yet again.

Another Government sponsored Thames Crossing? Or another Government cash cow?

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