The need to spend £8 million on vital repair and maintenance work on Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge means that car drivers and motor cyclists will have to pay a higher cash toll later this year.
In November 2010 the trustees responsible for the upkeep of Bristol’s 147-year-old icon announced that the 50 pence cash toll might have to double to meet the rising cost of running it but they pledged to keep the increases down to inflation for most regular bridge users.Now a formal request to increase the cash toll on Clifton Suspension Bridge to £1 is being submitted to the Department of Transport, but regular users who buy crossing cards will be able to pay as little as 35 pence per crossing.
Neither Bristol City Council nor North Somerset Council have objected to the proposal to raise tolls.
Today’s news follows a review of the finances of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, the body responsible for the bridge, which reveals that it costs £1 million a year to run it – around two-thirds of its total income – and that excludes the £8 million cost of important maintenance projects planned to take place over the next ten years. More than half that amount – £4.5 million – has been earmarked for essential works in the next five years.
Although the work is necessary to extend the life of the bridge and prevent deterioration, the charitable trust receives no outside help towards its costs, either from central or local Government. Therefore the running and maintenance of the bridge has to be paid for using the tolls paid by drivers of the three million vehicles crossing the bridge annually. This figure represents a 20 per cent drop in the number of vehicles using the bridge in recent years the reasons being the growing use of public transport, park-and-ride services and bicycles.
Just a few of the costly and essential maintenance projects planned currently include painting of the bridge, waterproofing works, major stone conservation work, toll barrier improvements, and the provision of safe access to the honeycomb of 12 vaulted chambers discovered in 2002 within the Leigh Woods abutment, the stone structure supporting one of the towers of the bridge.
Built in the age of the horse and carriage and now subjected to the weight and movement of twenty-first century road traffic, the bridge is monitored by specialist engineers to ensure maximum safety for users and to deal with emergency repairs, like the one prompted by the discovery of a cracked suspension rod in April, 2009. For this reason it is essential that additional funds are readily to hand, say the trustees.
Tim Baines, clerk to the trustees, said today: “While the trustees propose increasing the cash toll to £1 per crossing in order to ‘balance the books,’ they stress that regular users of the bridge still will be able to benefit from a reduced rate, purchasing in advance bulk quantities of crossings stored on an electronic pass card which operates the barriers. This means that, for the most regular customers who purchase up to 1,000 crossings in advance, the increases will be kept to inflation
The proposed costs per crossing for cardholders are as follows:
- £35 buys a card which permits 50 crossings at 70 pence per crossing;
- £50 buys a card which permits 100 crossings at 50 pence per crossing;
- £175 buys a card which permits 400 crossings at 43.75 pence per crossing;
- £350 buys a card which permits 1,000 crossings at 35 pence per crossing.
For drivers who already possess crossing cards when the toll increase comes into effect, the charge per crossing will remain at that which applied at the time when the card was recharged.
Mr Baines added: “While we can give no cast iron guarantees, because the bridge is now nearly 150-years-old, we believe we can raise the additional sums we require from visitors to Bristol and from non-regular users. For such occasional users we do not feel that a £1 toll is excessive in this day and age.”
There are no plans to re-introduce tolls for pedestrians or cyclists.
Commenting on the need to raise the cash tolls, the chairman of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, Dayrell McArthur, said that the increased income is not required to fund the proposed new Clifton Suspension Bridge Heritage and Learning Centre announced recently. He said: “Significant economies can be achieved by building the Heritage and Learning Centre at the same time as the maintenance workshop and administration facilities but the £1.5 million which for eight years the trust has ring-fenced as a contribution towards the cost of the development is insufficient to pay the total cost of £1.9 million. As the bridge is run by a charitable trust which receives no outside help towards its costs – and therefore the running and maintenance has to be paid for through income from tolls and investments – no additional toll income can be allocated to the development of Bridge Yard. Therefore we will spend only the reserves put aside for this purpose several years ago, together with the support we are seeking from other sources, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.”