M6 Toll sold to pensions fund investor

New owner is experienced infrastructure investor and also owns Manchester Airport

The M6 Toll is understood to have been sold in a major deal which will probably end speculation about the route being taken back into public ownership.

The 27-mile road, still the UK’s only pay-to-drive motorway, had originally been placed on the market by its consortium of owners four years ago at an asking price of around £2bn.

The sale had been targeted at global infrastructure investors and the eventual new owner – IFM – is an Australian group which invests on behalf of 28 major pension funds.

IFM, which has not declared anything officially, manages funds across four asset classes – infrastructure, debt investments, listed equities and private equity.

Its current portfolio includes Manchester Airports Group, Anglian Water and Arqiva, a leading broadcast and wireless communications infrastructure company servicing more than 1,300 organisations including mobile network operators, television networks, radio broadcasters and government agencies.

The M6 Toll, which bypasses the M6 between Cannock and Coleshill, originally opened in December 2003, with a 52-year concession agreement in place for operating company, Midland Expressway – then owned by Australian banking and investment group, Macquarie.

Despite much publicity it struggled to attract the traffic volumes predicted and as a result, has continued to lose money, with drivers preferring to use the free-to-drive M6 – even with its roadworks and congestion problems.

Latest accounts show Midland Expressway incurred a loss of £18,360,000 for year ended December 31, 2015 – but this was much improved on the previous year when the losses were £28,611,000.

However, its record has failed to deter IFM, which is used to the demands of infrastructure investment and has recognised that the road offers long-term potential, especially as it takes over the concession agreement, which has another 38 years to run.

A debt restructure under the previous owners has even given rise to optimism that the road could make a profit for the first time within the next few years.

Figures for the January to March quarter show a 6.3% improvement in workday traffic volumes compared with the same quarter in 2016, with the overall figure up 6.9%. Workday volumes were 50,849 (2016: 47,813).

Midland Expressway said: “We are delighted with overall traffic growth of 6.9% over the same period in 2016. Our commercial vehicle traffic growth continued to be very strong and was up by 25.2% over the same period in 2016.”

Car drivers pay £5.50 for a single journey between 6am-11pm weekdays (this falls to £5.22 for any vehicle fitted with an electronic tag), while HGVs pay £11 during the same period.

Throughout its history, the route has been used as something of a political football – most recently during the West Midlands Mayoral campaign when Labour candidate Sion Simon campaigned to have the road taken into public ownership.

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