Sunday, 18 March 2018

Concessionary bridge toll to rise 9.4p per journey

CONCESSIONARY tolls on Whitchurch bridge are to rise by almost 10p next year.

CONCESSIONARY tolls on Whitchurch bridge are to rise by almost 10p next year.

The bridge is to close for refurbishment in October and the cost of crossing on a pre-paid card will increase when it re-opens in April.

People who regularly use the bridge pay a returnable £10 deposit for the card, which they load up with credits to buy crossings in bulk.

They currently pay £10 for 50 journeys, which works out at 20p each, but from April they will get only 34 crossings for the same price — a 9.4p increase per trip.

The Whitchurch Bridge Company, which is paying for the £4.3million refurbishment, will not sell cards while the bridge is shut but will continue selling top-ups at the old rate. All crossings bought at the old price will remain valid and the 40p cash toll is unaffected.

The company says the increase is necessary to pay for the work but residents have complained.

Simon Brickhill, from Goring Heath, argues that the company earns a minimum of £1,200 on the 6,000 crossings that are made every day.

In a letter to this week’s Henley Standard, he says: “They have happily consumed the ridiculously huge profits from the bridge for centuries, not bothering to keep money aside to replace the structure. Enough is enough. These greedy proprietors need to take a long hard look at themselves.”

But company secretary Geoff Weir said Mr Brickhill’s figures were “simplistic and wrong”, pointing out the company must also pay for maintenance, insurance, lighting and staffing.

When it applied to the Transport Secretary for permission for the last increase in 2008, its accounts showed it took £266,379 in tolls and paid out £297,096 that year. This £30,717 loss was offset by income from savings, assets and investments, leading to a pre-tax profit of £54,992.

This year, the company will appeal against a High Court order to pay the VAT on the refurbishment. It claims it is exempt from all forms of taxation under a 1792 Act of Parliament and says the 40p toll will have to increase sooner than planned if it has to pay the levy.

Mr Weir pledged that the company would not raise the concessionary charge any further until it gets permission to increase the cash toll.

The bridge needs to be replaced by 2015 as it is struggling to cope with the weight of modern traffic. Contractors Birse Civils will begin building a temporary footbridge on July 29 and the main bridge will shut on October 3.

Traffic will be diverted via Goring bridge and advance warning signs will go up next week. The bridge will re-open on April 14.

lIn last week’s Henley Standard, it was inaccurately reported that the bridge would close on July 29. We apologise for this error.

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