At the time of the 2010 spending review, the Department for Transport set out its policy for increasing charges at the Dartford crossing, as part of a package of improvements for short, medium and long-term improvements. That included the introduction of free-flow tolling. My answer is that the Government do not intend to change their policy.
May I, therefore, suggest that the Department has got it wrong? Given that the existing crossing makes around £30 million to £40 million profit a year, surely it would be better to introduce automatic number plate recognition technology at the existing crossing first to see whether that solves the congestion problem before raising tariffs to fund a second crossing? With the new Secretary of State in place, could we please have some fresh thinking on this?
I know my hon. Friend’s views on the matter very well and that he lobbies very hard on that particular point. However, even with free-flow tolling at Dartford, the northern approach to the tunnels will still be congested, even according to the predictions we have now. The small bore tunnel has a huge restriction. We need to look at having another Thames crossing for this piece of national—I repeat, national—infrastructure.
Will my hon. Friend accept that there is a persistently serious problem of peak-hour congestion, both northbound and southbound, which is costing everybody an awful lot of time and money? Why cannot we have earlier and clearer signage and much better traffic management at the point of the toll booths themselves?
We are aware of the congestion at the toll, but most of that is caused by the barriers. An archaic method of collecting tolls is in place. We will introduce free-flow tolling as soon as we can. A lot of construction work needs to be done but, at the end of the day, the biggest problem is that the M25 is such a success we need to have another crossing over the Thames.