Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 11:34 UK

Toll bridge on market for 1.65m

swinford toll traffic
Traffic at the toll builds up a mile long tailback in the rush hour.

The Swinford toll bridge outside Oxford has been put up for sale.

The historic bridge across the River Thames was built in 1767 and is now used as an alternative route into Oxford city centre at rush hour.

Approximately four million vehicles pass over Swinford bridge each year, paying a toll of 5p per car and up to 50p per lorry.

The bridge at Eynsham is privately owned and the freehold is on sale for £1.65 million.

'Tax-free'

In a loophole in British law, the bridge enjoys tax-free status following a 1767 Act of Parliament which granted private ownership of the bridge and its tolls to the Earl of Abingdon and "to his heirs and assignees for ever".

The private owner can charge a toll, without paying income tax or capital taxes such as capital gains tax, inheritance tax and stamp duty.

The current 5p toll to cross the bridge can only be changed by passing another Act of Parliament.

The bridge is up for sale because the previous owner Graham Smith died.

Michael Hawley, the executor for his estate, said: "He liked quirky investments and it has proved to be a good investment.

"His family just do not have the same interest in the bridge."

'Highway robbery'

Mr Hawley says the 5p toll pays for essential upkeep on the bridge.

However local campaigners are hoping the new owner will get rid of the toll completely.

"We shouldn't be dictated to by 18th Century transport policy, and should stop this highway robbery," campaigner Jane Tomlinson said.

During rush hour the traffic backs up for a mile into the nearby village of Eynsham.

"The money is almost irrelevant, it's the waste of time, adds about half an hour, and waste of fuel," she added.

Oxfordshire County Council have been suggested as a potential buyer and are "discussing the issue internally".

"Public money must be spent appropriately and transport policies need to be framed as part of wider strategies, not just on the basis of one bridge in one part of Oxfordshire," a spokesman said.



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