A reduction in charges for using the Severn Crossing looks further away than ever, after transport minister Stephen Hammond reiterated the government’s intention to maintain the tolls after the crossing reverts to public ownership in 2018.

Speaking to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee on 18 June, Hammond said the charges would continue in order to pay down debts secured against toll revenues, understood to be around £88m. He also indicated that no decision had yet been taken about the management of the crossing from 2018.

Nick Payne, RHA regional director, Midlands and Western, said truck operators would be “very disappointed” with Hammond’s comments. “There are members of the RHA who spend well over a quarter of a million pounds a year crossing that bridge. On a bottom line of not very much, that's a big hole,” he said.

FTA policy manager for Wales, Ian Gallagher, said the news would be met “with fear and anger” in the boardrooms of transport firms across Wales and south west England.  “It is extremely hard for anyone to justify how this can continue once the initial debt, which the tolls were designed to pay, is serviced,” he said.

The £88m of outstanding debt represented around two years of further tolls, Gallagher stressed, ensuring they would continue to at least 2020.

Even then, motorists could face further costs, he said, since the legislation relating to the crossing (which stipulates that tolls can only be applied to pay for its construction and running) could be sidestepped by applying ‘charges’, rather than ‘tolls’, as happened with the Dartford crossing.

“Our fear is that whichever government is running the crossing after 2018 looks at it purely and simply as a cash cow,” said Gallagher.

In November, a report commissioned by the Welsh government concluded that the tolls, which raise revenues of nearly £80m a year, could act as a barrier to business, with particular impact on truck operators.