New Forth body will bridge gap, MSPs told

A KEY Holyrood committee has backed Scottish Executive plans for a new body to run the Forth Road Bridge after Deputy Transport Minister Lewis Macdonald defended the legality of the move.

The Forth Estuary Transport Authority, which will replace the present Forth Bridge Joint Board, will have wider powers than its predecessor and will be able to spend money on public transport alternatives and traffic measures to improve travel across the bridge.

But the technical procedure which will create it - an order under the Transport (Scotland) Act of 2001 - was questioned at an earlier stage by the Subordinate Legislation Committee .

Members had questioned details of the order and, MSPs heard today, there had also been queries about the use of the term "estuary" for the name of the new body.

Mr Macdonald defended the legal aspects of the order at the meeting of the Transport and Environment Committee, where he also defended the name change. He said the bridge had a toll income of about 9.2 million a year - of which about 3.3m was surplus - and a cumulative surplus of 10m.

The bridge was already running over its notional capacity for vehicles carried on more than half of the days in the year, and congestion was expected to increase by 3.5 per cent annually, he said.

The present Forth Bridge Joint Board was restricted in what it could spend its money on, and the new order was being proposed under powers in the Transport Act that enabled the creation of a body with a wider remit, he said.