A RALLYING cry went out loud and clear as hundreds of people marched across the Tamar Bridge.
“What do we want – abolish the tolls, when do we want it – now!” was the chant from some 330 peaceful protestors who joined the event in Saltash, carrying banners and flags across the pedestrian walkway.
The march was the first public demonstration organised by the Tamar Toll Action Group (TTAG), who have been campaigning since last spring to see an end to the charges on the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry.
Joining TTAG in staging the event were the movement All Under One Banner Kernow, whose belief is in greater democracy and autonomy for Cornwall.
Speaking as the crowd gathered for the march in Alexandra Square in Saltash was vice chairman of the action group Scott Slavin.
“As we can see there is overwhelming positive support from local people for this campaign to succeed,” he said.
“What we would like is for councillors, both in Plymouth and Cornwall, to recognise this and act appropriately to bring about change in the way the crossings are funded. We need a change to the Tamar Bridge Act.”
Group chairman Mel Priston said: “We are determined to keep this issue in the public eye so that all our councillors and MPs take it seriously.”
Mel continued: “We need our MPs to go to Parliament and fight on our behalf to get these tolls removed, in order to get a fairer deal for residents and all users of the crossings.”
The toll for non Tamar Tag holders is currently £2.60 and could be set to rise again as endorsed by a business plan voted in by the two local authorities earlier this year, and as the joint committee that run the crossings look to balance books. With no central funding from the Department for Transport or National Highways, increases are needed, they say, in order to secure the future of the crossings: to keep up with maintenance costs and debt repayments.
Among the first to address the protestors was Cornwall Councillor for Looe and Deviock Armand Toms, who has long argued for the tolls to be removed or subsidised.
“Back in 2007, I stood up in front of Cornwall Council and said these charges are injust, and people laughed at me. But then in 2008, they took the tolls off the Forth Bridge. That made me think – where’s the justice.
“Since that time, many further bridges elsewhere have been made free to use, some the beneficiaries of grant funding,” said Cllr Toms, “yet I don’t see one penny that has come this way.”
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for North Cornwall Phil Hutty said that “too often we here in Cornwall are forgotten.
“It isn’t a question of money, it is a question of priorities,” he said.
The charges on the crossings, he said, “prevent the development of Saltash and towns like it throughout Cornwall.”
Representing Liskeard at the march was Cornwall Councillor Jane Pascoe, and she was joined by fellow Cornwall Councillors Colin Martin (Losthwithiel) and Andrew Long (Callington and St Dominic), who both gave speeches on the Plymouth side of the bridge. Cllr Martin told protestors that it costs £14 million per year to run the bridge and ferries.
“If you split that across the several thousand people in South East Cornwall that use the crossings each day, that’s a real burden,” he said. But if you split it across the Government’s £1.4-trillion annual expenditure, that’s one thousandth of one percent.”