Leader: Who’s to blame for Forth Road Bridge debacle?

The Forth Road Bridge. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Forth Road Bridge. Picture: Jane Barlow

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The Forth Road Bridge crisis and the pitiful response to the admittedly extreme weather last week showed us all what we should have realised years ago, namely that Scotland’s pretensions to be a modern 21st century nation with the infrastructure to match are just not credible.

Serious questions must be asked of those I believe may be partly responsible for the bridge crisis. After all, tens of millions of pounds are going to be lost to the Scottish economy, and we really need to know if anyone is to blame for that.

I have had a couple of fascinating conversations with John Carson, the engineer who led the team that built the Skye Bridge, over the last couple of days and if even half of what he says can be proven then Transport Scotland and, yes, Scottish ministers past and present have a lot of explaining to do.

It gives me no pleasure as an SNP member to point the finger at a government mess that has occurred solely while my party has been in power, but I would be failing in my duty as a journalist and as a person who always campaigns for what I think is best for Edinburgh if I did not raise the questions which Mr Carson has placed in my mind.

Others can do the political point scoring – what we need to do is establish the facts of the bridge defects and ask if they could have been preventable.

Mr Carson’s two main points are that the failure to renew expansion joints, also known as movement joints, and a cancelled strengthening contract on the bridge may have contributed to last week’s disastrous defects.

Expansion joints are designed to help a structure such as the bridge cope with the extraordinary stresses. Back in 2007, Transport Scotland itself made the point that the movement joints were deteriorating and would need to be replaced in 2008-9. That did not happen, and Mr Carson is not alone in thinking that penny-pinching back in 2009 may well have contributed to the bridge’s current state.

The contract in 2010 directly involved the truss end link connections. Transport Scotland says that the cancelled contract is not related to the current problem. Oh really? Deteriorating expansion joints and truss end links did not affect the current fractured steelworks? Anyone with a Meccano set will know that one part of a structure relates to other parts . . .

The blame game has already started behind the scenes, and the position of the now defunct Forth Estuary Transport Authority will come under intense scrutiny. At the end of the day, however, Transport Scotland held the moneybags and there needs to be some sort of inquiry – perhaps by a Holyrood committee – as to who made what decisions and when.

People on both sides of the Forth and the Scottish taxpayer in general need to know some answers, and so far all we have had is a great deal of evasion.

As for the authorities’ response to the weather that struck south of Edinburgh on Thursday? It was absolutely shameful, as those people who were stuck in their cars for hours in Midlothian will testify.

We need to realise that our climate is indeed changing, and plan accordingly as “100 year” weather events are happening every other year 
now.

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