House of Commons Library

Road tolls

Published Wednesday, November 29, 2017

This paper sets out the powers of government and the private sector to levy tolls on individual roads and explains the policies of successive governments in this regard. It also looks at the only toll road in England along the M6 corridor and at four tolled crossings – at Dartford, across the Humber, the Mersey and the Severn.

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In the 1990s the Conservative Government extended the powers of the private sector to levy tolls on new roads, but these powers have barely been used. The Labour Government introduced powers for the Secretary of State to charge a toll on limited parts of the road network, usually those involving a bridge or a tunnel. A combination of powers legislated for by the Labour and Coalition Governments have extended those powers to permit a toll on any new strategic road given planning permission via the designated consent procedure.

There are long running debates about the persistence of tolls at Dartford, and across the Humber and the Severn and about new tolls which have been introduced across the Mersey. Dartford is tolled under order from the Secretary of State and the Mersey Gateway bridges are tolled under order from Halton Borough Council, while the tolls across the Humber and the Severn are levied by the private sector operators of those crossings.

‘Free flow’ was introduced at Dartford in 2014 and there has been some controversy about its operation. The tolls across the Humber were halved in 2012 and both the Conservatives and Labour went into the 2017 General Election with promises to abolish the Severn tolls. The opening of the Mersey Gateway Bridge in October 2017 was accompanied by new tolls on this and the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge.

The M6 toll road has had mixed success; it is unusual in that it is in direct competition with a free motorway running along the same route; this may account for some of the difficulties it has experienced since opening ten years ago.

Information on other road charges such as the London congestion charge and national road pricing can be found on the Roads Briefings Page

Commons Briefing papers SN00442

Author: Louise Butcher

Topic: Roads

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