Ministers gambled on ‘patch-up’ Forth Bridge repairs

Engineers prepare for work to repair the damaged truss on the Forth Road Bridge, which has been closed to all traffic for six days. Picture: Contributed
Engineers prepare for work to repair the damaged truss on the Forth Road Bridge, which has been closed to all traffic for six days. Picture: Contributed
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The operator of the Forth Road Bridge warned ministers in 2013 about the impact of repair budget cuts on the “long-term structural integrity” of the crossing, MSPs heard yesterday.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said minutes from a Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) meeting in October 2013 pointed out that Scottish Government cuts had resulted in a 58 per cent reduction in its budget.

That meant “a number of capital projects had to be deferred beyond 2015” according to the minutes, read out to MSPs at Holyrood by Ms Dugdale.

The documents state: “That deferral of part or all of these projects does increase the risk to the long-term structural integrity of the bridge.”

Ms Dugdale then told MSPs: “That’s key projects delayed because of SNP government cuts. Short-term decisions made at the expense of the long-term future of an important national asset. We have budgets cut, privatisation of services and cancelled repairs.”

Engineers revealed yesterday how they plan to fix a 20mm crack on a truss below the southbound carriageway which brought about the closure of the vital commuter route between Fife and the Lothians six days ago.

Thousands of commuters continue to face disruption, with alterative routes subject to priority for goods vehicles and public transport, while businesses continue to be hit by the shutdown.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted the government is determined to get the 51-year-old bridge re-opened early in the New Year after repairs are completed, although this is weather dependent.

It emerged yesterday that proposed works earmarked for 2010 which were cancelled would have replaced the area where the crack occurred, but Ms Sturgeon played down the concerns over maintenance cuts. She said: “The work considered in 2010 was prompted by concerns about another part of the truss not the part that is now cracked.”

The decision not to proceed with the work was taken by Feta, the First Minister said, which is independent of ministers.

Ms Sturgeon said the government did not have a “crystal ball” in 2010 to predict that the crack would appeare five years later.

But she added: “We did have the foresight to know that an ageing structure did need replaced. That is why this government took the decision to build a new Forth Replacement Crossing – a decision that would not have been taken had Labour remained in government.”

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “I don’t think the First Minister can avoid the fact that the budget for the Forth Road Bridge was hammered. It’s clear that the authorities gambled that the old bridge could be patched up until the new one was opened and we now know that the gamble has failed.”

She called on finance minister John Swinney to “reverse” cuts to the bridge maintenance budgets when he sets out his budget next week through additional capital funding which has been made available by the UK government.