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Private crossing ownership could spell DISASTER

PUBLISHED: 16:05 29 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:39 23 August 2010

SH1621-04	
12-09-05	
Gravesend	

Len Valsler from LV Transport , petrol crisis

SH1621-04 12-09-05 Gravesend Len Valsler from LV Transport , petrol crisis

TOLL prices on the Dartford crossing are likely to increase if a government proposal to sell off a bridge goes ahead, according to campaigners. A week after residents and motorists were rocked by news of plans for a second crossing, the government says i

TOLL prices on the Dartford crossing are likely to increase if a government proposal to sell off a bridge goes ahead, according to campaigners.

A week after residents and motorists were rocked by news of plans for a second crossing, the government says it may privatise the existing QEII bridge to raise capital.

Announced by the Treasury last week, proposals mean that toll prices could escalate if a private company took control of the vital route.

The news has been met with fury from residents and businesses as it means the tolls would never be scrapped and would most likely increase.

Len Valsler, director of LV Transport haulage company in Norfolk Road, Gravesend, said: "This is really worrying news. What's going to happen is, like with the Severn Bridge which is privately owned and charges £18 for a lorry to cross, they can start charging anything they like.

"There's no way that my business can absorb the extra cost - I would have to pass it onto customers and I don't want to do that, because they won't be able to cope either. This is a complete betrayal by the government - we were promised it would go free once it has paid for itself and that is never going to happen now.

"They're supposed to be helping small businesses but they're giving with one hand and taking away with the other."

Government assets, including the crossing, the Met Office and the QEII conference building are to be sold off as part of plans to raise £15 billion for the Treasury.

Roger House, Chairman of the Kent and Medway Federation of Small Businesses, said: "We are appalled at the government proposals to sell the Dartford crossing. To so do would mean that the crossing will never be toll free, something that was promised by the government when the QEII Bridge was planned.

"This proposal shows the contempt in which the government holds the motorist. Why should we believe that the tolls will not be increased further in the future?"

Nearly 150,000 vehicles use the crossing each day and the annual profit from tolls is thought to be around £52 million.

When the bridge, which forms part of the M25, was built in 1991, tolling was planned to stop when the bridge had paid for itself - which it did in 2002.

As well as causing anger at the cost, the toll has infuriated residents as it causes heavy congestion due to hold-ups sparking a campaign by Kentish Times Newspapers to 'Stop the Toll' for a month's trial period.

Dartford resident Derek Maidment said: "They said they would make it free God knows how many years ago and that hasn't happened, and now we are going to be penalised even further for using the crossing. Once it goes into private hands there's no telling how high they can hike the prices up.

"They're so desperate to plug the hole in their finances, but they haven't thought this through at all."

A Treasury spokesperson said: "No decisions have been taken about any of the assets considered in this review, including the Dartford crossing."

DESPAIRING drivers have slammed the crossing as the fourth worst 'A' road in Britain.

The stretch of the M25 that links Kent and Essex reached number four in the top 10 highways from hell, voted by RAC members.

Published last Monday, the poll officially ranks the M25, in its entirety, as the worst road in the country.

RAC strategist Adrian Tink said: "Those 10 are a national disgrace. We estimate that drivers waste 140 million hours a year stuck in jams. Our members don't expect fancy and expensive schemes. They want simple, cost-effective improvements on roads they use every day.

"They understand the need to pay taxes, but don't think they're getting value for money."

More than £45 billion a year is paid out in road and fuel taxes - but only £7.5 billion goes into improving the network.

elizabeth.thornton@archant.co.uk

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