Can Monmouthshire & Newport take advantage of the pledges to abolish the Severn Bridge Tolls?

Party leaders are pledging to scrap the tolls completely, but is the Monmouthshire and Newport region positioned to take advantage?

Promises to half the price of the Severn Bridge crossing tolls by 2018 was one of the few positive outcomes specifically for Wales as a result of the Autumn Budget last year. Currently at £6.70 for a car and £20 for HGV’s, prices for the 25 million drivers who cross from England to Wales each year, are costly.

PM Theresa May has stated that she wants, “to ensure that economic progress is shared across the United Kingdom,” and that scrapping the tolls, “will strengthen the links between communities”.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has also revealed in their manifesto that he would be, “working with the Welsh Government to scrap the tolls,” joining Welsh Labour who have been campaigning for years that action be taken on the bridge crossing.

Dan Smith, managing director of Newport based M4 Property Consultants provides his thoughts on the proposed scrapping of the Severn Bridge Tolls.

Clearly, the hope is that by scrapping the tolls, the whole of Wales will benefit, not just the immediate areas around the border. Reducing the costs to those looking to live, work or spend their leisure time in Wales can only be a positive. Estate agents have been reported increased demand in Chepstow, Caldicot and Newport for housing from Bristol based buyers, since the announcement in the autumn statement that the tolls would be halved.

From a commercial property point of view, those businesses that have previously dismissed relocating to south east Wales may now think twice. Previous concerns about some staff having to pay the tolls can be put aside. With work life balance, ever more important for employers to attract the best employees, south east Wales offers more affordable housing for employees, often shorter commuting times and easier access to the fantastic great outdoors that Wales has to offer. As a result, we would expect more office occupiers to consider areas such as Chepstow, Newport, Cwmbran and Cardiff.

We believe the biggest impact is likely to come in the industrial market. Avonmouth has performed particularly well over the last five 5 years in attracting distribution companies. Proximity to the both the M4 and M5 motorways being a key factor. However, it has become a victim of its own success with current limited availability and rising rents / values putting offer other occupiers. Again, since the Autumn Statement there has been a noticeable increase in demand from Bristol based industrial companies looking to relocate to Chepstow, Caldicot, Newport & Cwmbran. If the tolls are scrapped, this demand will only increase.

To be able to capitalise on this potential increased demand we must provide an offering which will entice these companies to Monmouthshire or Newport. At present, it is doubtful whether we do.

There is certainly a lack of good quality office accommodation, with very little (if any) grade A (top quality) offices available in either Newport or Monmouthshire. There is also a lack of industrial space with the majority of stock in the area now let or under offer and very limited new build taking place.

It is therefore vital that the local authorities work with private developers to identify areas for further development and ensure that these developments are brought forward quickly or we may lose out!

On a final note, if reducing the tolls increases the traffic flow in and out of south east Wales, it is more important than ever that the M4 relief road is progressed. The congestion on the M4 is a major barrier to business and a significant inconvenience to those visiting Wales as well as those living in Wales. We cannot afford to procrastinate any further on this issue, a decision needs to be taken quickly and the scheme progressed. Failure to do so, combined with the abolition of the tolls will cause greater issues and could damage the reputation of south Wales as a business location.