VILLAGERS said they were disappointed tonight after Oxfordshire County Council had not bought Swinford Toll Bridge after it was auctioned for £1.08m.

The bridge, near Eynsham, which is used by more than three million vehicles a year, is governed by its own Act of Parliament which makes it a tax haven.

Motorists pay 5p per car, and up to 50p per lorry, to cross the Grade II-listed structure and queues cause a headache for commuters heading into Oxford on the B4044 each morning.

The owner is exempt from paying income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax or VAT on the bridge because of the act passed in 1767 by George III.

It had been expected to reach between £1m and £1.25m at the auction at the Park Lane Hotel, in London, but the hammer eventually fell at £1.08m.

The successful bidder, who is not local, has not been revealed, but the county council confirmed it had not been involved in the auction.

Anita Shimmings, 51, of Tilgarsley Road, Eynsham, suggested it was a missed opportunity.

“The amount that it went for does not surprise me one bit because of the amount of traffic,” she said.

I think the council should have taken it over and let it be a free road and should have looked after the bridge.”

“I should imagine the toll will now go up like everything else does, which would be an absolute sin.”

Another resident, who has lived in Swinford for more than 40 years and did not want to be named, also said she wished the council had bought the bridge.

“It would have been the best thing to do. Whoever has bought it will have a job to keep it up,” she said.

“The grounds around the bottom of my garden are part of the land that goes with the bridge and they are never cleaned.

“I hope the new owner cleans it up a bit. We’ll just have to wait and see what they do.”

The bridge has a gross annual income of about £190,000.

Tolls are collected manually from a toll booth at the northern end of the bridge.

They are not collected overnight, but the new owner may have the chance to install an automatic barrier and pay machine, which could bring in an extra £25,000 a year.

Sue Chapman, 72, of Mill Street, has lived in Eynsham her whole life.

“I think it could be a good thing if the new owner did the repairs to the bridge that were meant to have been done over the last five years,” she said.

“I’m very glad because if the toll had ever been taken off, we would have had to have traffic lights there and I think traffic lights would have taken a lot longer for us to cross the bridge. It is an historic bridge and it should be kept in good repair.”

County councillor Charles Mathew said: “I’m sure the purchaser has investigated his commitments and liability in the acquisition of the bridge and I wish him well.”