‘Show us your money’ if you want to take over M6 Toll, Grayling tells councils
The Government has told West Midlands’ council leaders ‘you can buy the M6 Toll, if you can find the money’.
But at an estimated cost of £1.5 billion it seems highly unlikely that the newly formed West Midlands Combined Authority would be able to purchase by itself the 27-mile stretch of motorway which bypasses Birmingham to the north.
WMCA wants to encourage many more motorists to use the toll road by axing charges, thereby taking traffic off of the congested M6 as it snakes through Birmingham and on to Cannock.
Attending a fringe event yesterday hosted by Trowers and Hamlins in partnership with Alstom UK, Martin Reeves, Chief Executive of the WMCA, and Laura Shoaf, Managing Director Transport for West Midlands, both stopped short of calling for the full acquisition of the road. However, Mr Reeves remarked the current situation, including no relief for major disruption on the Midland motorway network, was “intolerable.”
The M6 Toll has been put up for sale by private owners Midlands Expressway and the leaders of the combined authority councils had been hopeful of Government devolution cash to help buy the road.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling appeared to rule out direct financial assistance in an interview with the Birmingham Mail, although he did not reject the possibility that WMCA could raise the funding needed to acquire the M6 Toll.
Mr Grayling said:
The road is up for sale. It will be sold with whoever comes forward with the best offer to do it.
If the combined authority chose to get into place all the finance it needed to do that, I certainly wouldn’t oppose it doing so.
The question they would have to ask is, in terms of the West Midlands economy, if we were going to spend £1.5 billion or whatever it ends up being, is that the best way to spend the money? That’s the question we all need to ask.
Earlier this year WMCA wrote to the Government to ask for discussions about taking over the toll road. Council leaders suggested raising the purchase price through a partnership between the combined authority, the Government, businesses and pension funds.
Leaders of the combined authority councils – Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell and Solihull – had hoped to strike a deal with the Government over the toll road when negotiating a 30-year £8 billion devolution agreement last year.
But Ministers proved unwilling or unable to reach agreement with Midland Expressway to transfer the road to the combined authority.
Opened in December 2003, the M6 Toll runs roughly parallel to the M6 north from Water Orton, north east of Birmingham, before joining the M6 near Cannock in Staffordshire.
It has never delivered on promises to take a significant amount of traffic off the M6, with many motorists and heavy goods vehicle operators said to be put off by high charges.
Using the M6 Toll costs £5.50 for most cars in weekdays, £4.80 during the day at weekends and £3.80 at night. But HGVs can pay up to £11 each way.
However, Mr Grayling, speaking at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, did have some good news for the West Midlands.
He confirmed that Midlands Connect, the partnership of councils, local enterprise partnerships and universities dedicated to improving connectivity across the Midlands, has been awarded £12 million by the Department for Transport for research.
The funding will help to prepare a regional transport strategy that will drive growth and exports and “help secure a vibrant, post-Brexit UK economy”, according to Sir John Peace, chair of Midlands Connect and Midlands Engine.
Sir John added:
This is a huge vote of confidence in the Midlands and in Midlands Connect.
The funds will be used for the critical work of developing transport links that will drive growth not just here in the Midlands but across the UK.
Better transport connections in the Midlands will help unlock and unleash our huge economic potential – which will help keep the UK economy strong while we adapt to life outside of the EU.
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