Forth Road Bridge closure could have been avoided, insists Fife MSP

The Forth Road Bridge is closed as to all vehicles at the end of last year.
The Forth Road Bridge is closed as to all vehicles at the end of last year.

The public can “draw their own conclusions” over whether the closure of the Forth Road Bridge in December could have been prevented, a Labour MSP has said.

Politicians clashed during a Holyrood debate on a report into the shutdown.

The Scottish Parliament’s Infrastructure Committee was tasked with carrying out an inquiry into the closure, which was ordered after a crack was found in part of the structure.

Its report concluded the crack in one of the truss end links “could not have been foreseen”.

But Labour’s Alex Rowley highlighted evidence that showed former bridge operator the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) considered in 2010/11 that the truss end links should be replaced.

The plan was shelved because budget cuts in the 2011 spending review had impacted its capital budget.

Mr Rowley said: “It is up to people to draw the conclusions themselves from reading the report.

“The bottom line for me is this work was planned, had this work gone ahead, the truss end links would have been replaced, that’s where the problem was caused from.

“Had that actually happened then the likelihood is the closure, and all the subsequent costs that came from that, could have been avoided.”

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “The truss end links were identified as something that had to be worked on but it was made clear by engineers giving evidence that the concerns they had related to the opposite end of the same steel beam.”

He continued: “I believe had the work been done on the top ends of these links, then they may have discovered the problem, but there was no evidence to suggest that would have happened.”

SNP MSP Clare Adamson added: “While we can say what ifs and what might have been, the fact of the matter is that the scoping of that project had not been done, and there is absolutely no guarantee that the replacement of the truss end links would have been completed before this fault emerged on the bridge.”

Transport Minister Derek Mackay said: “The defect was not foreseen nor foreseeable. Feta was an independent organisation that maintained and managed the bridge and was independent of Scottish Government.

“There is no evidence to suggest that Feta ought to have acted differently.

“Despite a tough spending review, if emergencies arose Transport Scotland could have intervened to support if asked.

“Scottish ministers’ decision to close the bridge was the correct one. I believe it was an excellent response to the closure and we have taken all reasonable precautions to prevent another closure.”

But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie argued there are still questions that”remain unanswered”.

He told MSPs: “The big one is about the pin. The pin could not be inspected, it was in an area that was not accessible but it was clear that it was not being lubricated, whereas the pin at the top end of the truss end link was.

“There should have been serious questions about whether that pin was rotating properly and what technology was going to be put in place to monitor it.

“These questions have not been addressed by the committee report. This pin should have been investigated. The fact that we could not get access to see how it was operating should have raised alarm bells.

“An awful lot more work needs to be done so the engineering community can learn from this experience so we don’t have a repeat of this episode.”

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