PLANS to build a visitor centre at one of Scotland’s most famous landmarks are on hold following concerns over funding.
Network Rail revealed ambitious proposals in 2014 to build a viewing platform on the top of the north cantilever of the Forth Bridge as well as a reception centre by its south viaduct.
The first stage of a consultation with local communities on the £15 million project, which would attract an estimated 360,000 visitors annually, has already been completed and detailed design work will also be finished.
But the owners of the 375ft-high Victorian structure have yet to secure further funding for the project and will not submit a formal planning application until it does so.
Changes to Network Rail’s governance in 2015 has restricted its ability to borrow money on projects that do not directly improve the transport system.
“Non-core railway opportunities” such as a Forth Bridge visitor centre are now less of a priority.
It would be a great shame if these plans never saw the light of day
READ MORE: Forth Bridge Experience images released
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “The main hurdle that we have still to negotiate is funding for our proposals. In 2015, Network Rail’s governance status changed from a privately operated organisation to a public one. This has impacted the ways in which we can borrow and spend money and means that non-core railway opportunities, such as a Forth Bridge visitor centre, are less of a priority.
“That said, the business case that has been developed for the Forth Bridge Experience is strong and has been thoroughly tested by three independent sources. We have not exhausted our options for funding and are hoping to see notable progress early this year.”
Network Rail had initially hoped at least part of the project would be completed in time for the bridge’s 125th anniversary in 2015.
Phase one of the project’s consultation was undertaken in March last year with a focus on traffic and parking in North Queensferry.
The second round of consultation will only be carried out when funding is secured and a firm completion date is set.
Paul Tetlaw of Transform Scotland, which campaigns for sustainable transport, said alternative funding for the project must be found.
“The building of a visitor centre should not be coming from the core railway budget,” he said.
“But the Scottish Government should view this project as a way of increasing the number of tourists to Scotland. The bridge itself is an iconic structure - it stands alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge as being globally recognised.
“Funding should be coming from the wider Government budget as this project would undoubtedly encourage more people to visit and spend money in Scotland.
“It would be a great shame if these plans never saw the light of day.”
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “The Forth Bridge is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable bridges and a true marvel of Scottish engineering.
“We would always support any plans to enhance the visitor experience of any destination in Scotland, but the timing and opportunity has to be right. We will continue to work with partners including Network Rail to ensure this unique World Heritage Site is showcased to the many visitors that come to Scotland every year, especially in this, the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.”