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Severn Crossing to become free

Tolls on the Severn crossings linking England with Wales are to be abolished for all vehicles at the end of 2018, it has been announced.

The Welsh secretary, Alun Cairns, said the move would boost the economy of south Wales by around £100m a year.

About 25 million drivers a year will benefit from the removal of the charges and regular users of the two bridges by car could save as much as £1,400 a year.

During the election campaign, Theresa May pledged to scrap the toll on vehicles crossing the Bristol Channel, saying it would ensure that economic progress was shared across the UK.

The announcement came a day after the government said it was scrapping plans for the electrification of the main railway line between Cardiff and Swansea, a move Labour said “betrays a promise to south Wales”.

The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, said: “This is nothing but a desperate attempt by Alun Cairns to distract from yesterday’s U-turn on electrification to Swansea."

Over the past 50 years, motorists have paid tolls on the crossings between the south-west of England and south Wales, which stand at £6.70 for cars and £20 for lorries. The fee is payable on entry to Wales, leading some to describe it as a “tax on Wales”.

Season tickets are available at £117.92 a month for the smaller category of vehicle, £235.84 for the middle band and £396 for the larger.

Severn Crossings plc was given the right to collect payments for 25 years as part of deal to build a second crossing in 1992. The two bridges will be operated by Highways England when they return to public ownership next year.

Cairns, who announced the decision to business leaders in Newport, said: “The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy.

“By ending tolls for the 25m annual journeys between two nations, we will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of south Wales and the south-west of England. I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically. Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business.”

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said: “Tens of millions of motorists a year will benefit from the end of tolls on the Severn bridges, saving them money and cutting journey times. Abolishing the crossing fee will also drive economic growth for businesses in Wales and the south-west and further strengthen the bond between our two great countries.”

The news was welcomed by the AA. Its president, Edmund King, said: “All drivers in Wales and the rest of the UK should rejoice at this news. At last the ‘tax on Wales’ is being abolished.”

Half of drivers say they plan their journeys to avoid paying tolls, King said, but for drivers from the south of England, the Severn Crossing was the simplest way to enter Wales for those wishing to avoid a lengthy detour.

Ian Gallagher, the head of policy for the South West and Wales Freight Transport Association,said: “It is excellent news for the growth of the Welsh and south-west economies, a real shot in the arm for those businesses and commuters who use the bridges on a daily basis.”

The RAC’s roads policy spokesman, Nicholas Lyes, said the charges on other toll roads should be lowered or scrapped. He said: “Where viable and where there are real tangible economic benefits for doing so, we would encourage the government to look at reducing or abolishing other crossing tolls across the country to help motorists who are feeling the squeeze of rising costs.”

The Severn crossing toll has been in place since the first Severn Bridge was opened in 1966, when the charge stood at two shillings and sixpence – the equivalent of 12.5p.