M6 toll owner asks to axe fee at peak times

Marion Dakers
THE OWNER of the loss-making M6 toll road has offered to make the motorway free to use at the busiest times of the day if the government allows it to drop other commitments.

Midland Expressway, owned by Macquarie’s infrastructure arm, wants to let drivers use the toll road to ease congestion on the free-to-use M6, in exchange for dropping a plan to fund a link road to the M54.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has looked at Midland Expressway’s plan, but officials are concerned about the financial benefit to the taxpayer in the proposal’s current form, City A.M. understands.

The firm has already given lorry drivers free use of the 27-mile road near Birmingham all next month to try to revive flagging traffic numbers.

In the first three months of 2013, just over 34,300 vehicles a day used the toll road, well below the peak of 55,000 vehicles a day seen in 2006.

It was during the toll road’s busiest period that Macquarie had pledged to pay the estimated £112m cost of a new free-to-use road between the M6 and M54.

The coalition set out options for the link during its 2010 spending review, but work is not expected to start until 2018.

Midland Expressway made a £41m loss during 2011, according to its most recent accounts, and owes more than £1bn to its lenders.

Car drivers must pay £5.50 to use the M6 toll between 6am and 11pm. This charge rises to £11 for vans, coaches and lorries.

The DfT declined to comment yesterday and Midland Expressway did not return a call to comment on the plan, first reported by the Financial Times.

The proposal comes as the government looks at setting up a toll system on the A14 in Cambridgeshire and the Department for Transport fights for funds ahead of the chancellor’s spending review this week.