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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
MSPs vote to scrap bridge tolls
Forth Road Bridge
The SNP has described the bridge tolls as unfair
MSPs have voted to scrap tolls on the Forth and Tay road bridges.

But the move came after a last-minute manoeuvre which saved the government from the prospect of its first defeat.

The SNP minority administration agreed to accept a cross-party amendment not to "arbitrarily" delay or cancel major transport projects in Edinburgh.

First Minister Alex Salmond earlier expressed concerns over the viability of the plans for an airport rail link and trams for the capital.

They have already received parliamentary approval, but the new government is currently reviewing whether the projects represent value for money.

We're not putting up with it - the new politics is not what they want but what we'll let them deliver
Des McNulty MSP
Labour transport spokesman

Speaking in parliament, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said legislation to scrap the tolls would be introduced in September.

"It is the government's view that tolls for users of the Forth and Tay road bridges should have been abolished once the tolls were lifted from the Erskine Bridge in May 2006," he told the Scottish Parliament.

Labour transport spokesman Des McNulty said continuation of tolls when they had been removed on the Skye and Erskine bridges was perceived to be inequitable.

But he attacked the government over the wider question of transport strategy, saying it had not been made it clear how the replacement Forth crossing would be paid for.

'Slightly bizarre'

"These are important issues for Scotland - not things that can simply be decided on a whim, by an individual, by presidential decree," said Mr McNulty.

"We're not putting up with it - the new politics is not what they want but what we'll let them deliver."

Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone backed the toll removal - but said that while his party wanted to see the trams and rail link proposals go ahead, they were "not handing out any blank cheques".

"We are concerned to ensure that there is proper evaluation of these and any other project that goes into the transport programme," said Mr Johnstone.

With the abolition of tolls on the Forth Bridge expected to increase traffic jams in and around Edinburgh, Lib Dem transport spokeswoman Alison McInnes stressed the importance of congestion-fighting measures.

Tay Road Bridge (Pic by Undiscovered Scotland)
MSPs also voted remove charges on the Tay

"That's why it is so important we consider trams and tolls in tandem," Ms McInnes said.

"We need an integrated transport system for our capital city. While bridge tolls became an issue for many during the election campaign, especially in Fife, for the Scottish Liberal Democrats our priority is to keep Scotland moving."

Green co-leader Robin Harper raised concern about parliament's decision, adding: "It seems to me slightly bizarre that we have a bridge that is under threat, we are told time and time again that the reason we need a replacement bridge is because this one is about to fall down."

Both bridges employ 150 staff, but it is expected that the Forth Estuary Transport Authority and the Tay Bridge Joint Board will stay on as road and traffic authorities.

The present toll income from both bridges is between 15m and 16m a year, but that cash would in effect be replaced by the government, not residents and businesses, Mr Stevenson said.

The executive would also take on to its own books the 15m in capital debt outstanding on the Tay Bridge.

A spokesman for the campaign group, the National Alliance Against Tolls Scotland (Naats), said: "The principle of removal of the tolls appears to have been accepted almost unanimously. We hope that the executive will now proceed as quickly as possible."

The decision to abolish bridge tolls was also welcomed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Trams are considered one way to ease the jams



SEE ALSO
Union unease at bridge toll plans
30 May 07 |  Scotland
Salmond plans to end bridge tolls
23 May 07 |  Scotland
Party moves to scrap bridge tolls
30 Mar 07 |  Scotland
Ministers to back Forth crossing
10 Feb 07 |  Scotland
Bridges debate ends in stalemate
08 Feb 07 |  Scotland

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