THE committee in charge of the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry says it is committed to keeping the two crossings within one single organisation.

The assurance comes in the light of recent government approval of a price hike in the tolls, which has led to calls from some in the community for the bridge and ferry to be separated.

The committee has also reiterated its commitment to obtaining funding from central Government – but says that it is keeping ‘all options on the table’ as to how to keep the financial future of the crossings secure.

The Tamar Toll Action Group (TTAG) – a pressure group formed in May of this year – has as its core campaign the complete abolition of tolls.

The group says that the committee’s route to achieving funding from Government has not been made clear, and that it has been asking for information on the outcome of meetings with Government.

The Cornish Times asked the Joint Committee if its overarching aim and vision was to seek a toll-free bridge and ferry – or if its efforts were focussed more on the bridge as part of the strategic highways network.

We asked what the committee was working toward in its correspondence with Government and what specific representation to local MPs had taken place.

A spokesperson for the Joint Committee said: “Both the parent authorities and the Joint Committee have, for a number of years, been calling on the Government to provide long term financial support for the two crossings.

“All partners are keen that there should be a solution where the bridge and ferry continue to operate within a single organisation and the objective is to achieve practical support that maintains this structure.

“As would be expected in this uncertain global financial environment,  the Joint Committee is keeping all options on the table to secure a safe and stable future for Tamar Crossings.”

TTAG vice-chairman Scott Slavin said that it was discouraging to hear at the last public meeting that the committee could not rule out annual increases in the toll indexed to inflation.

The committee has said that the ability to index tolls using RPI “would not mean that tolls must increase by that index, rather it would set a ceiling on the ability to increase tolls to levels that ensure that funding for operation and maintenance remains sufficient”.

The action group said: “The people and businesses of SE Cornwall are being penalised by the continually rising operating and maintenance costs of not only a 500m piece of the A38, a vital part of the strategic road network that receives no funding support from the Highways Agency, but also the Torpoint Ferry.  This is an unfair tax.”

The action group says it intends to monitor the committee, ask questions on behalf of the residents who use the crossings, and see the views and concerns of local drivers represented.

TTAG has already achieved some successes: at a meeting of the joint committee earlier this month, the group, with support from some of the elected members, saw a proposed idea to offer toll discount to electric vehicles ditched.

The committee has also agreed to review the way it communicates information with residents. TTAG was initially formed after an increase for Tag user journeys was introduced earlier this year.

The action group feels that a public consultation was not publicised widely enough and that drivers were not offered adequate opportunity to respond. The committee, however, says that “the Government was content that all statutory requirements were met, and that members of the public were given adequate notice of the application as well as their right to object”.

A wide-ranging Business, Strategy and Governance review into the operation of the two crossings is currently being carried out by the consultancy Local Partnerships – a joint venture between the Local Government Association, HM Treasury and the Welsh Government.

Local Partnerships says its purpose is to help public sector organisations face the “ever-increasing challenge of meeting rising demands for services with shrinking budgets”.

The consultancy will be looking at current business effectiveness, the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, and looking to the future, both in terms of finance and oversight.

Meanwhile members of the joint committee and Council officers were due to take part in a workshop last week to discuss the pros and cons of different commercial and governance models that could be adopted for the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry.

Among the options is a move to a centrally funded bridge and the The Tamar Toll Action Group is seeking reassurance from the committee that this option is considered in full, whether or not there is an appetite from the Department for Transport / National Highways for ownership.

The consultancy is expected to present its final reports in March 2023.

We asked MP for South East Cornwall Sheryll Murray for her view on how, ideally, funding for the maintenance and operation of the bridge and ferry should be obtained, and if the user-pays model were still the best one. We asked if she was concerned about the impact of the price rise on local drivers.

Mrs Murray said that she was as “disappointed as local businesses were” about the increase in tolls the Joint Committee had decided upon.

She said: “I have discussed potential funding resolutions with the Joint Committee and have approached the Department for Transport to allow an amendment to the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Act which would allow tolls to increase annually at smaller increments, thus allowing businesses to better plan for the future.

“I have received no confirmation from the Joint Committee or parent authorities that they wish me to take this forward.”

In an information sheet to constituents who have expressed concerns about the funding of the crossings, Mrs Murray states that the toll charges “remain amongst the lowest for a major estuarial crossing in the UK” and compares the tolls to those charged on the Bodinnick Ferry (£5 single or £8 return) and the King Harry Ferry (£6 or £8 return).

The Tamar Toll Action Group will have its next in-person meeting at The Ploughboy Inn, Saltash, on October 27 (7.30pm)