Forth Road Bridge: MSPs demand independent inquiry into structure amid claims structural defects went unnoticed

The bridge is likely to remain closed until after New Year

Chris Green
Scotland Editor
Tuesday 08 December 2015 19:42
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An empty Forth Road Bridge. The crossing is likely to remain closed until after New Year
An empty Forth Road Bridge. The crossing is likely to remain closed until after New Year

An independent inquiry should be ordered into the closure of the Forth Road Bridge amid claims that structural defects went unnoticed due to cuts to maintenance budgets, MSPs have said.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has insisted it was “absolutely, unequivocally not true” that repair budgets were cut in the hope that the current bridge would last long enough for the new Queensferry Crossing to open at the end of 2016.

The Forth Road Bridge, which usually carries around 70,000 cars a day and is one of Scotland’s most important pieces of road infrastructure, is likely to remain closed until after New Year after a 2cm crack was discovered in a support beam by an engineer last week.

On 8 December, as commuters between Edinburgh and Fife endured packed early morning trains and traffic jams, there were signs that the closure is already beginning to take a toll on Scotland’s economy. The Road Haulage Association said lengthy diversions were costing the transport industry an estimated £600,000 per day in extra fuel costs.

Transport Minister Derek Mackay said an additional 8,000 train seats and 33 extra buses with 11,000 extra seats had been provided to help people who needed to travel between Edinburgh and Fife, but urged employers to be “flexible” in their working arrangements with staff to relieve the pressure.

After Mr Mackay delivered an update on the closure to the Scottish Parliament, he faced calls from opposition parties to order an inquiry into what had happened. Labour’s Alex Rowley said MSPs needed “full and frank answers” on what had happened, a sentiment echoed by the Conservatives’ Murdo Fraser.

“We need to have a fully independent inquiry into what went wrong, and that has to report early in the New Year,” Mr Fraser said. “There has been a great deal of speculation that the bridge closure was the result of inadequate maintenance. With such an inquiry, we can find out the truth of the matter, and make sure vital lessons are learned for the future.”

According to reports, plans to strengthen the bridge’s “significantly overstressed” truss end linkage system were advertised in 2010 but then cancelled. Bridge engineer John Carson told the BBC he believed Transport Scotland had at the time “exerted pressure” on the now-defunct Forth Estuary Transport Authority to keep the maintenance budget down.

However, Transport Scotland said those repairs was “unrelated” to the current issue and Ms Sturgeon insisted that the required maintenance “has been done”, adding: “This crack that has resulted in the bridge being closed was, as I am told by engineers, unforeseen and unforeseeable. It is the type of fault that has been unpredictable and happened very quickly.”

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