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WMCA talking to Treasury about future of M6 Toll, but takeover claim firmly dismissed

WMCA talking to Treasury about future of M6 Toll, but takeover claim firmly dismissed

🕔24.Sep 2015

The seven West Midlands metropolitan councils are talking to the Government about making better use of the “half empty” M6 Toll, but they have no intention of running the road themselves, it has been confirmed.

Council leaders are discussing the future of Britain’s first toll motorway with Treasury officials as part of a devolution bid by the shadow combined authority.

But a senior source at the heart of the discussions has rejected a claim that the combined authority wants to take over the privately-run road and scrap the tolls, pointing out that the cost of doing so would be prohibitive and highly unlikely ever to be sanctioned by the Government.

The ‘takeover’ idea was floated by BBC Midlands Today. The programme quoted a leaked document and suggested the seven councils wanted to “make the M6 Toll free”.

That claim was dismissed as “completely off the agenda” by the source.

It was confirmed that WMCA has asked the Treasury for discussions about how better use can be made of the 27-mile M6 Toll between Coleshill and Cannock because the road is critical to the regional and national infrastructure.

The source added:

No one is making the most of the M6 Toll’s potential because the road is half empty most of the time. We are not saying we want to take it over. What we do want is a conversation about making better use of the road because it is vital to the regional and national growth agenda.

A draft submission from WMCA to the Treasury is believed to argue that boosting use of the M6 Toll could create £1.7 billion of economic benefit.

Powers to run transport across the West Midlands will pass to the combined authority when it begins operating next April, and the transport brief may eventually end up in the hands of an elected metro mayor.

The M6 Toll is operated by Midland Expressway, which has a concession agreement from the Department for Transport with 40 years left to run.

Motorists pay £5.50 each way for a car journey Monday to Friday, while HGV lorry drivers pay £11 each way. Charges are lower at weekends and at night.

Critics of Britain’s first privately run motorway include Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the Black Country Chamber of Commerce.

They say the M6 Toll has never lived up to expectation that it would ease congestion by taking cars and lorries off the M6 motorway at the busiest times.

Any ‘takeover’ would inevitably involve compensating Midland Expressway, unless some form of partnership agreement between the firm and the councils could be worked out.

A spokeswoman for the combined authority, representing Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Walsall and Dudley councils, refused to comment on the BBC report.

Council leaders are angered by the report which comes “at a crucial time” with Chancellor George Osborne weighing up the Greater Birmingham devolution bid and have ordered a leak inquiry.

The Toll Road proposal was contained in WMCA’s initial bid to the treasury on September 4.

The shadow combined authority board has attracted criticism over the secretive nature of its devolution bid. A prospectus document made available to the public talks about a 10-year investment fund worth £8 billion but makes no mention of the M6 Toll.

Other proposals in the WMCA bid to the Treasury are said to include a plan to allow the combined authority to raise its own council tax, and to cream off air passenger duty payments from flights at Birmingham Airport.

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