Business fears over sale of key crossing

A GROUP representing small firms has called on MPs elected at next month’s General Election to press the new Government to provide safeguards for businesses if the planned sale of the Dartford River Crossing goes ahead.

Chancellor Alistair Darling announced the proposed sale in his Budget speech last month in a move to raise much-needed funds for the Treasury.

However, many businesses fear that a private operator could increase the tolls charged to users of the crossing between Essex and Kent, with those making regular journeys such as businesses operaing in both counties being particularly badly hit.

Now, the Essex branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which represents more than 213,000 business people across the UK and is the largest single organisation representing business interests in the country, has called for MPs to press for protection for business users.

Branch chairman Iain Wicks said: “Essex FSB is very concerned at the impact this will have on the many thousands of businesses which need to use the crossing each day.”

The FSB continued to believe that the Government should honour the promise originally made that tolls would be axed when the QEII bridge, opened in 1991 to complement the twin tunnels under the Thames, had been paid for, he said.

“That promise has been broken by the Government and we have seen tolls steadily increase until now motorists generate �43million profit a year for the Government by simply crossing the River Thames at Dartford,” said Mr Wicks.

Most Read

However, if the sell went ahead, Essex FSB believed the sale contract should include strict controls on the level of tolls that applied in future.

“What we want to see is this tax on businesses working on the other side of the Thames to be axed completely in accordance with the Government’s original promise and certainly would not want to see the new owners given carte blanche to raise tolls even higher than the current levels,” he added.

“Essex FSB would also want to see a commitment to remove the current toll booths and move to payment on line and by telephone – as happens with the London Congestion Charge – as such a change would ease the current lengthy delays at the crossing and help traffic flow more easily in both directions.”