With Cornwall Council narrowly voting to support an increase in the Tamar tolls, county councillor for Callington and St Dominic Andrew Long has called for National Highways to step up and foot the bill for using the bridge, writes Sarah Martin.

His comments come after heated debate at Cornwall Council’s February full council meeting on the motion to support applying for a toll revision order which would see costs increase on the crossings by 15 per cent.

The motion was carried by 38 to 36 after multiple amendments were put forward in an attempt to stall any increase in the tolls.

Tory Cllr Philip Desmonde, a former transport portfolio holder was unsuccessful in his bid to defer the motion, while Liberal Democrat leader on Cornwall Council Cllr Colin Martin’s amendment to defer any vote until after a General Election was taken forward but failed.

An amendment to defer by the transport portfolio holder Cllr Richard Willams-Pears does give the council an extra 55 days to secure additional funding from government, funding that Cllr Long says should come from National Highways.

He commented: “The people of South East Cornwall deserve to be protected by the council that is supposed to represent them. It is frustrating that despite the number of times we have told officers and cabinet members that using the bridge and ferry is not a choice but a necessity to access important services, they continue to treat us as second class citizens. However, we are not going to simply stand aside and accept what is clearly unacceptable.

“I am sure that myself and colleagues who did vote against this damaging proposal will double our efforts to find a solution. One of the major issues is that National Highways, who use our bridge, do not pay anything towards its upkeep. This is untenable and indeed the portfolio holder said as much when he said that people who use it pay for it. That is all we are asking. National Highways need to be invoiced for using the Bridge that they don’t own.”

The uplift is set to increase tolls by 15 per cent which means an increase to £3 per car for cash tolls and to £1.50 for the tag holders.

Scott Slavin, vice chair of the Tamar Tag Action Group, said: “Whilst it remains disappointing that the vote against the increase in the Tamar Toll Tax did not prevail, the 38-36 result in favour of it being increased is a significant step change compared to past efforts to affect change on this issue - a change in our favour and in popular opinion.

“At the Tamar Toll Action Group, we take heart from this as it means our campaign is progressing as we’d hoped, with the public and local politicians alike finally beginning to recognise that change is not only necessary, it is inevitable.”

Chair of the Tamar Toll Action Group Mel Priston said: “We were hugely disappointed that Cornwall Council voted in favour of the increase without requesting that Tamar Crossings make some effort to reduce their spending or investigate other ways of fundraising, rather than continually passing on their costs to ‘the user’, costs which include the running of the visitor centre.

“The current model of charging a dwindling number of ‘users’ for maintaining both the bridge, ferry and their associated staff and infrastructure is unsustainable long term, and we would like to see this both acknowledged and addressed by both Tamar Crossings and the joint councils, so that an end to this huge financial burden on users who have no alternative route to cross the Tamar can be sought.”

The motion to apply for a toll revision order will now go to Plymouth City Council, as the Joint Authority for approval, by its full council on March 18 following previous approval by the council’s Labour cabinet.