The need to spend £9 million on vital repair and maintenance work on Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge means that car drivers and motor cyclists will have to pay a higher cash toll later this year.

In November 2010 the trustees responsible for the upkeep of Bristol’s 148-year-old icon announced that the 50 pence cash toll might have to double to meet the rising cost of running it, but they pledged to keep the increases down to inflation levels for most regular bridge users.

The Department of Transport will be holding a public inquiry later this year into the proposed increase to £1 for people paying by cash.

However, the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust were keen to emphasise that regular users who use pre-paid ‘Bridge Cards’ will be subjected to a much smaller increase, broadly in line with inflation.

Tim Baines, clerk to the trustees, said today: “The trustees have to raise sufficient income to be able to pay the running costs of the bridge and the essential maintenance work identified as being a priority over the next 10 years.  They feel that the most equitable way of raising the income required is to ask occasional users to pay £1 per crossing, allowing the cost of Bridge Cards to be kept as low as possible.”

The proposed costs per crossing for Bridge Cards are as follows:

  •  £50 will buy 100 crossings at 50 pence per crossing;
  •  £170 will buy 400 crossings at 42.5 pence per crossing;
  •  £350 buys 1,000 crossings at 35 pence per crossing.

In September 2009 a ”convenience” 50-crossing card was introduced, without any discount.  Now the Trust intend to introduce a discount on this card as well, offering 50 crossings for £30.

The cost of Bridge Cards has not risen since January 2009, and the Trust also intend to keep any future increases in the cost of Bridge Cards broadly in line with inflation.

Mr Baines added: “While we can give no cast iron guarantees, because the bridge is now nearly 150 years old, we believe we can raise most of the additional sums we require from visitors to Bristol and from non-regular users. For such occasional users we do not feel that a £1 toll is excessive in this day and age.”

A review of the finances of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust reveals that it costs £1 million a year to run it – around two-thirds of its total income – and that excludes the £9 million cost of important maintenance projects planned to take place over the next ten years. More than half that amount – £5.6 million – has been earmarked for essential works in the next five years.  The work is necessary to extend the life of the bridge and prevent deterioration.

The charitable trust receives no outside help towards its maintenance costs, either from central or local Government. Therefore the running and maintenance of the bridge has to be paid for using the tolls paid by drivers of the three million vehicles crossing the bridge annually.

Built in the age of the horse and carriage and now subjected to the weight and movement of twenty-first century road traffic, the bridge is monitored by specialist engineers to ensure maximum safety for users and to deal with emergency repairs, like the one prompted by the discovery of a cracked suspension rod in April, 2009. For this reason it is essential that additional funds are held in reserve, say the trustees.

Commenting on the need to raise the cash tolls, the chairman of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, Dayrell McArthur, stressed that the increased income is not required to fund the proposed new Clifton Suspension Bridge Heritage and Learning Centre announced last year.

He said: “The Trust has for nine years ring-fenced £1.5m of reserves towards the cost of the new facility for visitors.  Now, however, savings have been achieved which reduce the cost of the development to £1.3m, and nearly half of that will be paid through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  This will allow a significant part of the ring-fenced money to be used to support the bridge maintenance funds.”

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