clifton naat
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(page created 9 April 2014)


  • The bridge opened in 1864 and carries what is now the B3129 across the Avon gorge near Bristol.
    The bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and though it is an important traffic artery, is treated more like a monument.

    As at 2012 there are about 3.3 million crossings a year generating income of about £1.4 million. The bridge is run by the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust which is registered as a charity. Though none of the charity is for the roads users, with much of the tolls going towards museum / conservation / industrial archaeology / tourism activities including illuminations.

  • It has an unusual legislative history.

    The first Act in 1830 had a Trust - which seems to have been linked to the 'Society of Merchant Venturers' - building the bridge. Soon after work started in 1831 there were major riots primarily because the Lords were blocking the Reform Bill which aimed to remove rotten boroughs and slightly widen the electoral franchise, but the rioters also targeted the tolls. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery has a painting from 1831 - "Bristol Riots: The Burning of the Toll Houses, Prince Street Bridge". These riots indirectly affected the work which had only just started on the Suspension Bridge and work did not restart for 5 years. The money for the bridge ran out and under an Act of 1861, the bridge was handed over to the Clifton Bridge Company who completed the bridge which then opened at the end of 1864.

    There was then another Act in 1888, but we don't know what the purpose was. Shortly after the end of World War II, the cost of building the bridge had been paid off, and an Act of 1952 (Preamble to the 1952 Act which shows the legislative history pre 1952) handed the bridge back to the Trust and though the cost had apparently been paid off, the Act increased the tolls. There was another Act in 1980, which again we don't know what the purpose was, and in 1986 there was the last Act (so far) which enabled the Trust to raid funds in order to have a "Museum", though in theory the money was somehow to be paid back.

    2006 Public Inquiry and subsequent increase

    Following a Public Inquiry **, the toll was increased on 1 January 2007 from 30 pence to 50 pence each way for motor vehicles (cars, motorbikes and vans) and "vehicles drawn by a horse or other animal". In theory there is a toll of five pence for each pedestrian, pedal cycle, handcart, 'mechanically propelled invalid carriage', horse or other animal, but this toll has not been collected since about 1991. There are bulk tickets available at a discount. There also used to be an annual 'season ticket' which cost £25, but that was withdrawn about 2000.

    ** The Trust's 'Economic Case' for the increase dated October 2005 (large pdf)   Our objection made on 1 December 2005 to the 2007 increase   Our submission made on 3 October 2006 to the Public Inquiry   Our report of what happened at the Inquiry   the Inspector's report (very large file)   the Minister's Decision letter   2006 Tolls Order.

    2013 Public Inquiry and subsequent increase

    In 2012 the Trust applied to raise the tolls again, we and others objected. A public inquiry was held from the 29th to 31st May 2013:-

    The Trust's original submission and 'Economic Case' of May 2012 (large pdf)   The Trust's further submission of May 2013 (large pdf).

    NAAT evidence - Our submission to the 2013 Public Inquiry (there were some changes made when parts of the submission were read out, and this version reflects some of those changes)   Our summary of some of the figures   Trust's financial projection submitted to 2006 Inquiry   Submission by Leigh Woods Society to 2013 Inquiry   Submission by Ian McKay to 2013 Inquiry   Trust's Closing statement to 2013 Inquiry (objectors were not allowed to make one)   Our version of what happened at 2013 Inquiry.

    After the May 2013 Inquiry there was a long silence, though we learnt from a local MP that someone that the Government could not ignore had raised an issue about the Trust's case. This was a mystery until April 2014 when the Government approved the doubling of the toll. What they revealed at paragraph 8 to 10 of their decision letter was that someone had contacted the Police who had then contacted the DfT about the accounts that the Trust had submitted to the Inquiry being subsequently qualified by the auditors. The Trust told the DfT that they did not agree with the auditors who had been replaced. The DfT said that they were "content", which will have come as no surprise to anyone.

    We have looked at the accounts and the accounts as audited are slightly different from the draft accounts that were given to the Inquiry. The 2012 draft accounts showed that the Trust's funds had gone up from £8,191 thousand to £8,472 thousand, the actual accounts show funds of £8,509 thousand. That change is not related to the qualification. The auditor's qualification says - "Included within direct charitable expenditure in the Statement of Financial Activities is an amount of £292,125 in respect of the cost to purchase a new toll system. In our opinion, the new toll system satisfies the definition of a tangible fixed asset set out in Financial Reporting Standard 15 ‘Tangible Fixed Assets’ and, consequently, its cost should be recognised on the balance sheet as a tangible fixed asset and that asset should be depreciated over its useful economic life. Accordingly, the resources expended should be reduced by the cost of the asset (£292,125), less an appropriate adjustment for depreciation, with a corresponding increase to net incoming resources, tangible fixed assets and net assets." If the accounts had been changed as the auditor's thought that they should then the surplus would have gone up by the £292 thousand less depreciation. We estimate that this would have increased the Trust's funds to about £8,750 thousand.

    At the Inquiry, the Trust's vast funds seemed to be of no importance, and the emphasis was on their losses. In Document 10 of their May 2013 submission, though there was a big surplus after investment gains they showed for 2012 what they had as an "actual" LOSS of £187 thousand. In the published accounts the actual was a LOSS of £163 thousand, and if the accounts had been produced in the way that the auditors said that they should have been then the accounts would have shown a PROFIT of about £100 thousand (before investment gains).

    More recently we learnt from the same MP that the Government had approved the increase at the beginning of April 2014, but for some reason that decision was not made known to the milch cows who use the bridge or the objectors. On the 9th April we spotted it on the Department for Transport website and alerted the news media - Bristol Post 9 April - 'Cost of crossing Clifton Suspension Bridge set to double from 50p to £1'   BBC 9 April - 'Clifton Suspension Bridge toll to rise from 50p to £1'.

    April 2014 Decision letter   July 2013 Inspector's report.

    Links:- Official site   Wikipedia   Brunel 200   Sabre entry   Geograph (there are more than 200 other pics on this site).
    Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust Accounts:- 2003 Accounts   2004 Accounts   2007 Accounts   2008 Accounts   2009 Accounts   2010 Accounts   2011 Accounts   2012 Accounts as submitted to 2013 Inquiry   2012 Accounts as audited.

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