West Midlands Mayor: Candidates clash over M6 Toll at Express & Star debate
The candidates for West Midlands Mayor clashed over the future of the M6 Toll at the region's first mayoral hustings debate.
Labour's Sion Simon, Lib Dem Beverley Nielsen, Conservative Andy Street, Ukip's Pete Durnell and James Burn of the Green Party took part in the Express & Star's debate at the Black Country Living Museum tonight.
Watched in the museum's Workers Institute and online by an audience of readers, business leaders and local politicians, the candidates answered a range of questions on issues, including transport, housing and the role of the mayor.
- MORE: The West Midlands Mayor debate - as it happened
- For full reaction and analysis of the debate see Thursday's Express & Star
There was plenty of agreement among the candidates when it came to championing the region and improving infrastructure, but it was the contentious issue of the M6 Toll that most divided the candidates.
They were asked by an Express & Star reader if the toll road should be made free to use and whether nationalisation was a viable and attractive option.
"The Government should nationalise the M6 Toll," said Mr Simon, who said it would take motorists driving through the region off the West Midlands' busiest routes.
He added: "Make it free, start to take some pressure off our roads."
But Mr Street disagreed. He said it would cost £2 billion, and claimed the money would be better spent on transport measures which would benefit people in the region.
He said: "The cost would be £2 billion - that is the equivalent of all the money we have to invest in capital on our transport infrastructure. That is not the best use of the money."
Mr Simon responded, saying the cost should be met by the Government, not the West Midlands. He added: "They (The Government) owe us more than £2 billion."
Mr Burn said the plan was not feasible, but said leeway should be given when there is severe congestion on the M6.
Meanwhile Ukip candidate Mr Durnell said 90 to 95 per cent of HGVs driving through the region were already using the M6 Toll.
Opposing his own party's campaign to make the road free, he said: "Realistically, it is not going to happen. The money is not going to be available, if we had £2 billion we should look at spending it better."
Finally, Ms Nielsen said motorway traffic systems should continue to be invested in to tackle congestion. She added: "I think we can look at better solutions than spending £2 billion (on the road) – I think we can use smart systems more effectively."
Express & Star Editor Keith Harrison, who chaired the event, said: "It was a lively debate and it was great to see so many people coming together to raise the profile of this important election.
"The West Midlands Mayor, whoever that may be, will wield great power and have the opportunity to bring real change over the Black Country, and the West Midlands.
He added: "The Express & Star is proud to have hosted the first major debate for the election on May 4.
"The important thing now is that as many people as possible come out and vote."
It was the first of four key hustings events ahead of the election for the region's first Metro Mayor on May 4.
Coventry Cathedral will host the second debate on March 22, with the final two taking place at Birmingham Hippodrome on April 4, and Resorts World Birmingham at the NEC complex on April 23.
The position of Mayor will control a budget of £36 million a year and have responsibility for housing, transport, economic development, skills, mental health provision and business growth.
The Mayor will lead the West Midlands Combined Authority, which was formed last year and consists of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull.
Three further mayoral debates are set to take place over the next two months.