Vital work shelved due to funding cuts, Forth Road Bridge inquiry hears

Scotland's transport system was plunged into chaos when the bridge had to be closed.
Scotland's transport system was plunged into chaos when the bridge had to be closed.

Works to the Forth Road Bridge deemed crucial five years ago were shelved because of Government funding cuts, its former bridgemaster said.

The bridge was closed to all vehicles for most of December after a 2cm crack was found in a support beam.

Barry Colford, former chief engineer and bridgemaster at the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, said a list of works, which included truss end links repairs, was not a “wish list” but what “needed to be done in our professional opinion”.

“The capital programme was what we felt was needed to be carried out,” he told a Holyrood inquiry.

“Prior to the spending review we were carrying out a capital programme, obviously things changed after that and we had to reprioritise capital spending.”

He added his team had to look at what they could afford following the budget cut in 2011, while balancing necessity against risks to safety, structural integrity and disruption to traffic.

He said risk of failure to the truss end links, one of which contained the structural defect, could have “caused an accident for a user at the time”, but the main concern would have been traffic disruption.

The defect was not foreseeable and closure probably would have happened even if the works were carried out, said Mr Colford, who told MSPs he wanted the truss maintenance to be carried out from 2010/11.

He said, financially, Feta was “in a different place” with the withdrawal of ring-fenced budgets and the abolition of tolls in 2008 and “we had to be realistic about that”.

Mr Colford declined an invitation to lay into Transport Scotland over budget reductions saying they were under funding pressures of their own.

Feta was wound up in June 2015 and responsibilities passed to Scottish ministers.

Lesley Hinds, Feta’s former convener, who said the body’s capital budget was cut by 58% in 2011, told the inquiry earlier that senior staff at Feta had “deep concerns” about the transfer of bridge management to a private company.

“There can be no doubt that Transport Scotland were well aware of Feta board’s concerns about loss of key staff and the threat that this would have on the future management and maintenance of the bridge,” she said.

The inquiry is investigating the “management, monitoring and maintenance” of the bridge in the decade before its prolonged closure.