Small businesses around Bristol will be looking to extend their activities in Wales when tolls on the Severn Bridge are halved next year.
The news that vans will pay £3 to cross (the same flat rate as cars) instead of the current £13.50 has been welcomed by commercial property specialists Bruton Knowles – which has offices on both sides of the Severn.
Paul Matthews, head of the firm’s Bristol office, said: “If you run a fleet of five vans and they all have to pay £13.50 to cross the bridge then you are obviously going to think twice before venturing over into Welsh markets – unless you can pass that cost on to the client.
“The fact vans will now be classified in the same toll grouping as cars will allow SMEs to significantly expand their area of operations, and allow firms this side of the Severn to compete for work on equal terms with their counterparts on the other side – and vice versa.”
The Department of Transport has announced that tolls will be reduced by around 50 per cent when the bridge returns to public ownership next year.
This means cars and vans will pay £3 while truck traffic tolls will be halved to just £10.
Paul Matthews went on: “We have heard reports that the tolls will enable house hunters to extend their search across the bridge to places like Chepstow, Caldicot and Magor but the same holds true for business seeking premises, which on this side of the Severn can be in short supply.
“Toll charges have always been one of the biggest obstacles to greater cooperation between the two cities.
Cardiff and Bristol team chiefs agreed infrastructure was key to the area’s economic viability.
Head of Bruton Knowles’ Cardiff office Mike Rees said: “We have been charging commuters almost £7 a day for the privilege of simply crossing the bridge with businesses paying significantly more.
“Paul’s comments regarding businesses in Bristol taking advantage of opportunities to work this side of the bridge apply just as well to Welsh businesses looking for work in England.”
But Mike Rees believes there are still key transport issues which need to be addressed in Wales.
“Whilst the economic benefits of cutting the Severn Bridge tolls will be considerable , Wales really does need to be in a position to deal with the anticipated increase in traffic flows - in particular sort out the Brynglas tunnel issue once and for all.
“We must have a transport strategy for Cardiff in the light of an extra 40,000 new houses proposed in the LDP.
“Since neither of these are likely to be in place by 2018, the benefits of a reduction in tolls are not going to bring the same immediate benefits for businesses on this side of the bridge.”