An inquiry into the closure of the Forth Road Bridge over Christmas has been accused of “not going far enough” as it fails to highlight a loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds to businesses, opposition MSPs have claimed.
In its report the SNP-dominated infrastructure and capital investment committee said the structural defects that halted traffic – with heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) not allowed on the crossing until February – “could not have been foreseen.”
All of our witnesses were of the view that the defect which caused the closure of the bridge could not have been foreseenJim Eadie, SNP MSP
The bridge was closed for two-and-a-half weeks after a steel pin was found to have seized in the “truss” support structure under the bridge’s southbound carriageway.
However, opposition parties claimed officials were warned of the need for urgent repairs ten months ago and that work which could have averted the closure was shelved by the Scottish Government due to a lack of money.
The report suggests senior bridge engineers should be able to close the crossing “without delay” in an emergency, without having to get permission from ministers.
MSPs on the infrastructure committee made the call as they published their inquiry report into the closure of the bridge last December.
The report highlighted a five-hour delay between bridge operators Amey recommending closure and ministers making the decision, adding that while “this delay did not present any danger to users” the MSPs felt there was a “lack of clarity as to who is ultimately responsible for closing the Forth Road Bridge and what protocol exists for making such decisions”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie criticised the committee for failing to call for a fund to compensate haulage firms whose profits were squeezed due to bridge restrictions on HGVs.
Mr Rennie said: “This report is a big disappointment and doesn’t nearly go far enough. The bridge is a major artery that closed on the government’s watch. They should not leave businesses to pick up the tab. The committee has recognised bridge users and particularly hauliers were severely affected. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were lost by businesses.”
Scottish Tory Alex Johnstone said the closure highlighted the government’s “penny pinching approach to its responsibilities”.
He said: “The government’s slow response in repairing the bridge has had a catastrophic impact on people and businesses. Drivers were inconvenienced at one of the busiest times of the year and the delay in opening the bridge to haulage vehicles has cost businesses greatly with no prospect of any compensation.”