Leaders: Inquiry can ensure bridge is future-proofed

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits the Forth Road Bridge after a crack forced its closure last week. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits the Forth Road Bridge after a crack forced its closure last week. Picture: PA
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Probe will reveal reasons for closure but also provide pointers to enable it to remain a viable long-term asset for Scottish transport

In a murky situation which throws up more questions than it does answers, the Forth Road Bridge debacle should absolutely be taken to public inquiry.

Calls to do so should be welcomed as a useful tool to work out how the bridge can continue to be utilised in the future.

Often, a public inquiry discovers who is to blame for a certain situation, which in this case, would also be beneficial.

However, this inquiry would be more about how this fault was allowed to occur without anyone noticing and what changes need to be made to prevent it from happening again.

Thankfully, an inspection brought to light the two centimetre crack on a load-bearing link in a support beam of the bridge – preventing a potentially serious incident – but the mystery which surrounds the suddenness of the closure is somewhat worrying for the thousands of people who rely on it every day.

We already knew that there were problems with the structure of the bridge, centred around the cables, that had been well documented in the past, but the latest fault was apparently completely unexpected by engineers working on the crossing.

What is perhaps even more concerning is that, if a crack like this could appear out of the blue, in a 52-year-old bridge, could other cracks, or other faults, also appear in the future? Could there be parts of the bridge that are under equal stresses that are equally likely to crack?

An inquiry would allow us to find out what the inspection regime was and why it had not previously shown up signs of stress at this point of the bridge. An inquiry would also identify those responsible for a closure which has been tipped could cost millions of pounds of public money to resolve.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that it was “absolutely” not true that cuts to maintenance budgets led to the closure and has maintained that the fault had only been there for a very short timeand that is good to know, but could another inspection regime have given more warning?

An inquiry could also offer a blueprint to ensure that the bridge’s lifespan can be extended.

When the Queensferry Crossing finally opens, the old bridge is set to remain open to public transport, although the main bulk of traffic – private cars – will transfer to the new bridge.

Before this week’s closure, the plan was to strengthen the bridge enough that it could bear light traffic for the long term, but this is not good enough. And in the light of the new faults, strengthening work needs to be extended around not just the cables which were already known to be faulty, but the support beams too.

The question is, what happens if there is a problem with the new bridge and a temporary replacement is needed?

As we have stated before, the Forth Road Bridge should be left in a condition which would allow it to take the full load of traffic if necessary.

What a public inquiry would do is help us establish just how things can be improved so that it is safe for it to do so.

It would also give the bridge a clean bill and restore confidence in a crossing which has a significant impact on the Scottish economy.

Actions of a desperate man

As a man with little chance of getting power, Donald Trump is having a disproportionate effect on what is happening in America. He is playing to the lowest common denominator in his suggestion that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. The idea is preposterous and cannot be taken seriously.

However, he knows that with a certain audience, sadly, it will strike a chord. There are people who will be happy to jump on the Trump bandwagon and use his strident outpourings as an excuse to divide the population.

His words have ignited a political debate which should just not be being given air time. We must hope that America can see him for what he is – and see through him as a credible orator.

Even voicing the idea is creating division among the American people and is deliberately

stirring things up for no better reason than to raise Trump’s personal profile. It is a dangerous game to play at a time when Islamaphobia is on the rise and Muslims across the western world are in fear of retribution for terrorist attacks.

Trump’s suggestion would place a ban on people’s freedom to travel based on their religion alone. No sensible person would believe this was a credible suggestion, yet he is using it as a political platform – and defending his views to the hilt.

His actions are those of a desperate man who knows he has lost – of someone who is using a last-ditch attempt to garner as much attention as possible while he is still in the public eye because the pollsters tell him this is his only chance - slim though it is.

All we can do is hope that Trump’s preposterous political rhetoric goes down as well in the US as his attempts to keep wind turbines out of view of his luxury Aberdeenshire golf course went down with the Scottish courts.