The M6 Toll road should be nationalised as it is a huge waste of resources and money, a Conservative Party Conference fringe event heard.
The event organised by West Midlands transport authority Centro also heard that the High Speed Rail route will turn Birmingham Airport into a London airport with 40-minute travel times from Heathrow.
But Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip called for an end to the ‘madness’ which sees the old M6 choked up with HGVs and traffic day after day while the £5.30 per car M6 Toll lies largely empty.
He said: “There is massive capacity on the M6 Toll which is totally under used. We have got to deal with this and the solution is simple, bring it back into public ownership. There are a number of ways to do this.”
He said the finances were a disaster. “It cost £500 million to build, so why is there £1 billion of debt attached to it? This is because it was refinanced by the banks and the shareholders took a £500 million dividend.
“Their only answer is to increase the tolls, which means less cars use the road and there’s less maintenance.”
He added that inevitably the lorries are using the old M6, increasing the damage to the bridges and viaducts and heaping further repair costs on the taxpayer.
He suggested that waiting until the road’s owner Midlands Expressway Ltd needs to refinance its huge debts and then doing a deal to nationalise the motorway.
And that alternative road pricing schemes, perhaps even charging for peak time use on the old M6, could be used to regulate traffic and pay for the purchase.
The Centro fringe event also talked about prizing further funding from the Department for Transport to enable the region to set its own priorities and fund major projects such as Metro routes and open new rail lines.
Andrew Cleaver of National Express and the Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership said: “We need much more local decision making.
“If you have to go the Department for Transport every time you need funding, there is a time lag and it ends up costing more.”
He cited the example of the Manchester Metro, where complicated PFI deals and hold ups led to costs soaring, and contrasted this with London where under the mayor’s direction projects like Crossrail and Dockland Light Rail extension have eased through.
There was consistent support for High Speed Rail from the panel.
Mr Cleaver added: “Opposition to it has been driving all the decisions. But we need this for regeneration of the economies of the North and Midlands, to rebalance the economic power away from the South-East.
Mr Inskip said that there are conservative projections of 22,000 jobs and £1.5 billion wealth created for the region by HS2 but in his opinion it would probably be nearer 60,000 jobs and £3 billion.
“But we must have a direct route to mainland Europe. It is not going to be as much use if there is an interchange in London.”
He also welcomed the prospect of 40 minute travel times between Heathrow and Birmingham Airport. “If that is not another London airport, then I don’t know what is.”
Tom Fanning CEO of M6 Toll said: “The concession for the M6 Toll runs for up to a further 42 years.
“It was a large capital project costing almost £1 billion to build, at no cost to the taxpayer, and we take a very long term view of this investment.
“While traffic on this and all UK roads has been affected by the current economic downturn and high petrol prices, we are confident it will return to more normal levels in due course.”