Published Letter 1971, Michael Heseltine

One from the archives to show a precedent for Government willingness to discuss take over of the bridge.  Published Letter 1971, by Michael Heseltine, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, stating that if the Department were asked to assume responsibility for the bridge, the request would be ’very carefully examined’

Cornish Guardian, July 1st 1971

Cornish Guardian July 1st 1971 – Transcript

Minister Hints at Future of Tamar Bridge Take-over request ‘would be considered’

The possibility of the Tamar Bridge being taken over by the Government has been raised by a promise from Michael Heseltine, Under-secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, that if the Department were asked to assume responsibility for the bridge the request would be ’very carefully examined’

Such a move would be supported by Mr Robert Hicks MP for the Bodmin Division who says the Government should take over the bridge and its liabilities if asked to do so by the bridge committee.

Traders and others have expressed support.

Ald. K G Foster, Chairman of Cornwall County Council, while conditionally in favour of a takeover of the bridge with the remaining debt of about £1 ¼ million believes that a second crossing will have to be provided and hopes consideration will be given to a barrage road crossing.

Ald. Foster said he was pleased at the proposed improvement to the A38 from Saltash to Bodmin, but if the A38 was to be continued from Exeter via Marsh Mills to the Tamar Bridge he viewed with great alarm the inability of the bridge during peak periods to carry the traffic.

One solution would be for the Government to take over the bridge and abolish tolls as he ‘Ald Foster’ had previously suggested.

But sooner or later they would be faced with the need to provide a second Tamar crossing and he personally hoped that the authorities concerned would together consider the possibility of a barrage crossing.

“Plymouth has got to get water from somewhere” he said “and a barrage scheme could provide both the water and the means of providing another road crossing.”

The barrage scheme should avoid Saltash requiring the building of a new road via Pill

The bridge widening scheme which has been rejected by Cornwall was no solution as the dept might regard the width clearance between lorries as a safety hazard in which case they would be back where they started.


Ald. Foster strongly rejected the implication which Mr Heseltine had made that it was the ‘clear responsibility of the Bridge Committee to consider the impact of traffic on its future plans’.

The traffic impact would be created by the Dept‘s policy of creating trunk roads on both sides of the bridge – bringing extra traffic along the A38.

Mr Robert Hicks said that the Department of the Environment was now facing the probability that in the next 5 years it would be responsible for a major road system stretching right across the country to Penzance except for the small Tamar Bridge sector.

This would be ludicrous and he hoped the Tamar Bridge joint committee would put forward a proposal that the Department should take over the bridge and its liabilities. ‘I would certainly support any such move’ he added.

Mr Hicks said he thought that Ald. Foster’s suggestion for a road across a Tamar Barrage was worth looking at ‘I put it no higher than that because there might be technical problems, but it could solve both the problems of water and roads and also provide electric power.

There is nothing more irritating and dangerous than to get use to the idea of driving along high speed roads and then find one comes to a bottleneck for one reason or another’ said Mr Heseltine at the Department for the Environment.

It is of paramount importance that where a sector of a main rd is under the responsibility of an authority other than the Dept of the Environment that other authority brings the same degree of urgency to bear in considering its plans for the immediate future. Only in this way can we be sure that through traffic will be kept moving.


The Tamar Bridge is an example of the sort of situation that I have in mind. With the amount of very comprehensive improvements and particularly with our decision to initiate trunking procedure to bring the financial responsibility along the northern boundaries of Plymouth into the hands of the national exchequer, there still remains that very narrow important crossing of the Tamar which is the responsibility of the bridge joint committee.

The increased traffic flowing along the trunk roads from Somerset through Devon will in considerable part have to cross the Tamar Bridge to reach Cornwall – nobody can want to see the present hold ups on the Exeter by pass moved 40 miles onwards to the north of Plymouth,


“Similarly all the traffic that goes into Cornwall comes out of it and the return journey could lead to traffic jams on a similar scale in Saltash. It is the clear responsibility of the bridge committee to consider the impact of this traffic on its future plans” he added.

“It has been suggested that the Department of the Environment should become responsible for the bridge – and if the suggestion is put to us by the two authorities responsible and the bridge committee we would of course have to examine the proposals with care”

The Mayor of Saltash Ald. Victor Harding told the Cornish Guardian that he would welcome take-over of the bridge by the Government providing that the takeover was absolute and involved payment of outstanding debt and the abolition of tolls.

“If they are going to take it over and run it in the same way we may as well stay as we are” he said, “but if the intention would be to run it as a freeway in the proper sense of the word then I would welcome it”.

“My own feeling is that if the Government took it over they would soon see that the only practical way to operate it as part of a fast trunk road system would be as a freeway but I ought also to sound a note of caution.”

“We do not at this stage know if the likelihood is that the Torpoint ferries would be taken over as well or if these would revert to being the responsibility of Torpoint, or Cornwall as a whole.”

Mr CNP Westaway chairman of Saltash and district chamber of Commerce, which in the past has pressed for a reduction and final abolition of the tolls on the Tamar Bridge told the Cornish Guardian that local traders would welcome a Government takeover.

“That is we would welcome it if the Government wipes out the remaining debt of £1¼ million and abolishes tolls” he said.

“The unfortunate thing is that if a toll stays with a take-over it tends to stay forever. We would definitely need some positive assurance about the position with regard to tolls. Although they are not too bad at the moment we seem to be subsidising Torpoint Ferry to quite an extent.”

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