Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Selling a tax-free cash cow

I was very interested to read the sales pitch from Humberts Leisure the agent instructed to sell the bridge, and thought readers of this website might like to see it, too.

In their glossy online brochure (pictured) they state that "In the last 3 years there has been an annual operating surplus of between £95,468 and £113,481". Nice! And tax-free too, remember. The blurb describes a charming little rural idyll, a pretty little cash cow standing in the sweet water meadows of Oxfordshire, waiting for a higher rate tax payer (for that is who the sales blurb is pitched at) to come along and milk it.

There is no mention in the blurb of the hatred and frustration that toll collection causes the local population. There is no mention of the avoidable environmental damage caused as more and more vehicles have to queue longer than ever before, their engines idling, pumping out choking emissions. There is no mention of the thousands of hours of time wasted by bridge users as they queue to pay that silly toll. No, of course they wouldn't mention that.

Sod the prospective 'higher rate tax payer' buyers looking for an easy tax-free investment; there should only be one buyer: Oxfordshire County Council.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Buy now, traffic calm later

We shouldn’t let our dread of traffic lights eclipse our need for OCC to buy the bridge.

Since the toll bridge came up for sale earlier this week I’ve been talking to people around Eynsham and online. Many are worried that if OCC buy the bridge and scrap the toll traffic might go too fast. The bridge is certainly too narrow for vehicles travelling at any speed. This is a very real worry, the bridge is narrow, but we mustn’t lose sight of the main thing: that there is now a rare opportunity for OCC to buy the bridge. This has to be our focus. The traffic calming can come later.

Once the bridge is OCC’s (and therefore ours) there are lots of traffic calming measures to consider before the blunt instrument of traffic lights are imposed.

Anything that allows traffic to flow safely, slowly and steadily would do the trick; perhaps some combination of rumble strips, speed humps, width restrictions, double white lines, flashing amber lights, a speed camera set at 20mph with zero tolerance (that would bring in extra revenue, too), and I’m sure there are lots of other ways I haven’t thought of. Any sane person would have to concede that charging a toll is a pretty weird and unusual way of traffic calming.

Don’t lose sight of what’s at the heart of the matter: OCC must buy the bridge, or we’re stuck with years of more of the same unnecessary daily misery. This is so urgent that whatever worries we may have – chiefly a fear of traffic lights, from what I’m hearing – must wait to be considered after the happy day when the bridge finally becomes public property and integrated into the public road network.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Letter to David Cameron

Yesterday I wrote a letter to David Cameron, which I'd like to share with you:

Dear Mr Cameron
I have written to you on numerous occasions about the problems caused by toll collection on the Swinford bridge.

The bridge is now for sale. Last time the chance came up for OCC to buy the bridge they did not act swiftly enough and the whole of west Oxfordshire lost out.

OCC's official statement says they will "discuss the issue in due course". But this may not be fast enough. The chance for OCC to buy the bridge comes up no more than a couple of times a century, so together we must act now.

I urge you to write immediately to Councillor Ian Hudspeth (ian.hudspeth@oxfordshire.gov.uk) and Steve Howell, OCC’s head of transport (steve.howell@oxfordshire.gov.uk), and encourage them in the strongest possible terms to buy the bridge. The residents of west Oxfordshire are entirely fed up with being held to ransom every day and being forced to waste our time and our fuel, to say nothing of adding to the totally avoidable emissions created by our vehicles as we queue the pay the toll.

'In due course' is not good enough; and it's not like they haven't already had years to consider this matter!

Yours sincerely
Jane Tomlinson

You too can write to David Cameron, urging him to do the same, at camerond@parliament.uk

UPDATE, 15 May 2009
I received a swift reply from Mr Cameron's office. His assistant will show Mr Cameron my letter. Let's hope a little political pressure from someone so high profile will make a difference. We can but try, after all.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

OCC must buy the bridge now

The last time the bridge came up for sale Oxfordshire County Council missed buying it because they weren’t quick enough off the mark.

OCC’s official statement says they will "discuss the issue in due course". Hmmm… in due course may not be fast enough. The chance for OCC to buy the bridge comes up no more than a couple of times a century, so we must act now.

What you can do
I strongly encourage all readers to write to Councillor Ian Hudspeth and Steve Howell, OCC’s head of transport, and urge them to act immediately to purchase the bridge.

Don’t accept their 'in due course' flannel. It’s not like they haven’t already had years to consider this matter.

Pictured above: page 7 of The Oxford Mail, 14 May 2009

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Toll bridge for sale!

It's true! When I found out I couldn't believe my ears; indeed, I actually had to sit down.

The Swinford toll bridge is for sale for £1.65million, apparently, and there should only be one buyer: Oxfordshire County Council (OCC).

OCC had the chance to buy it and incorporate it into Oxfordshire's road system back in the early 90s. But they didn’t. The opportunity to buy the bridge comes up so rarely - perhaps only a couple of times a century - that if they don’t act now we may have to wait another 20 years, possibly longer, for another chance.

OCC are likely to say they can’t afford it. But that’s rubbish. Yes they can! And it couldn’t be simpler. Make the bridge users themselves pay for it over a number of years by continuing to charge the toll for a fixed period (a number of years). After which, with the money recouped, they can scrap the toll, stop the highway robbery and get west Oxfordshire moving again. The Act of Parliament, which allows the bridge owner to collect a toll, doesn’t say a toll HAS to be collected, after all.

Do the decent thing, OCC. Buy it now. Buy it for the people you’re meant to be serving. £1.65million seems remarkably cheap to me, and in the light of the current row about MPs’ expenses is little more than beer money.

What I fear is that OCC will whine: "we can’t afford it", which really means "we can’t be bothered"; and yet another private greedhead owner will buy it, creaming off the profits from this cash cow at the expense of bridge users in West Oxfordshire, who will line his pockets every morning and evening with their wasted time, wasted fuel, and their patience while simultaneously damaging the environment with needlessly-emitted exhaust fumes.

Buy it OCC. Buy it now.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A short film

The real cost of the toll on Swinford bridge in Oxfordshire is far higher than 5p
In case you haven't got to time to read all the stuff on this website, I've made a short film (four an half minutes) about why it's time to scrap the tolls on Swinford bridge.

Find out how 18th century transport policy is holding west Oxfordshire to ransom. It's highway robbery!