THE Swinford Toll Bridge, near Eynsham, should be bought by the county council now that it has come up for sale, says a local councillor.

Charles Mathew, county councillor for Eynsham, says the bridge causes “unacceptable” traffic jams as drivers queue to pay tolls.

Now that it has been put on the market by its owner for £1.65m, Mr Mathew said he saw a “perfect opportunity” to end the tolls, which range from 5p for cars to 50p for heavier vehicles.

He added: “The situation has got to be sorted. I want to see the toll abolished.

“There is a widespread feeling the county council missed an opportunity to buy the bridge years ago and now it should grab this chance with both hands — if the price is right.”

Mr Mathew has been backed by residents, including Jane Tomlinson who set up the Scrap the Toll campaign.

She said: “If the county says it cannot afford the price, they should keep the toll in place until they have recovered the money – and then abolish it. They should buy it now.”

But a spokesman for the present owners warned that a private buyer could double the 5p car toll instead.

About four million cars cross the bridge every year, as well as lorries and buses that each pay up to 50p for the privilege of using the crossing over the River Thames.

Its owners, the heirs of the late Graham Smith, of Stratford-upon-Avon, who died in 2001, are seeking offers in the region of £1.65m.

Included in the sale are the bridge, about four-and-a-half acres of land, fishing rights and a riverside cottage.

Smith family spokesman Michael Hawley, said: “It could be a good investment since all the tolls collected are tax-free, and the bridge is free of capital gains tax and inheritance tax.”

The Grade II-listed bridge, which is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument, was built in 1767 with about £5,000 provided by the fourth Earl of Abingdon.

Under an Act of Parliament drawn up by the famous lawyer Sir William Blackstone, who was then living in Wallingford, the bridge and its tolls would belong to the Earl and “to his heirs and successors forever”.

Mr Smith bought the bridge in 1985 for about £275,000.

Mr Hawley added: “We’re selling the bridge because there are now 13 family members, all with different interests and aspirations and we want to present a united front.

“To increase the toll the owner must show the extra money is necessary because of maintenance costs or inflation.”

A county council spokesman said: “We have been made aware the bridge is for sale and will discuss the issue in due course.”

The owners of Oxfordshire’s only other private toll bridge, at Whitchurch, near Reading, have applied to increase the fee for cars from 20p to 40p from July.