North Bridge is to undergo repairs estimated at £12 million after rusting metal and cracks in concrete were discovered during a routine inspection.
Work is under way to establish the full extent of the damage, but council chiefs insisted the bridge was structurally sound and the public was not in danger.
The £12m repair budget for the 120-year-old bridge is included along with planned investment in schools, roads, house-building and other projects in the council’s spending plans to be approved next week.
City finance convener Alasdair Rankin said water had got into the cracked concrete.
But he said it was expected that traffic would be able to continue using the bridge – a vital route through the city centre – while repairs were carried out.
Councillor Rankin said: “People will understandably be concerned to know, is it structurally sound, and the answer is yes. That’s what the engineers are telling us.
“If there was a structural problem we might need to think about reducing the weightload, which could mean closing a couple of lanes. But that is not necessary from what we are hearing from the experts.”
The problems were discovered during a routine inspection of the bridge at the end of last year.
Cllr Rankin said: “There is some deterioration of the paintwork so some metal is exposed and there is a certain amount of rusting.
“Some concrete cracking has been detected and a certain amount of water ingress as a result.
“Work is going on at the moment to make sure we know the scale of the problem.
“But we have been advised it is prudent to put aside £12m in order to get the bridge into a long-term sustainable condition.”
He said there were regular inspections of the bridge and every so often a more in-depth inspection.
“This was one of the more in-depth inspections.
“We don’t have a detailed programme of work to tell us what would be involved.
“It may be given what we are hearing about damaged concrete and water ingress we might have to have temporary lane closures, but we cannot confirm that at this stage.
“We’re still working on the overall programme, so we don’t have a start date, but we expect the work to be phased over several years.”
He said one of the problems in carrying out the repairs was the fact the bridge was built over Waverley station.
“We have to have a special structure in place to do the necessary work under the bridge so we are not creating any danger for the station below.”
North Bridge was built by Glasgow-based civil engineers Sir William Arrol & Co, who were also responsible for the Forth Bridge and London’s Tower Bridge. It was opened in September 1897.
The budget drawn up by Edinburgh’s Labour-SNP coalition will see council tax rise by three per cent after the Scottish Government lifted the freeze which has been in place since 2007.
And the ongoing programme of job losses will continue, with the target of 1500 fewer posts expected to be reached by the middle of the year.
Cllr Rankin said financial constraints and rising demand for services had meant major challenges for the coalition over the last five years.
But he said the administration had shifted resources to frontline services to protect citizens from the worst effects of austerity. And he said: “Come the elections in May, we will hand over a council that is in a sound financial position.”
In addition to £40m worth of savings for 2017/18 agreed in last year’s budget, a further £11m savings feature in the new budget, including reductions in spending on consultants.
The Capital budget includes £12.7m for a new primary school in South Edinburgh to relieve pressure on the existing primaries in the area. There is also £16.3m for other new schools, including Boroughmuir High, a replacement for St Crispin’s special school and a new St John’s RC Primary; and another £6.7m for extra classrooms at schools under pressure from rising rolls.
Plans at a glance
* Council tax will go up by three per cent across all bands.
* £40 million savings for 2017/18 have already been agreed as part of last year’s budget – and another £11m are planned now.
* £12m is set aside for North Bridge repairs.
* £12.7m for a new primary school for South Edinburgh
* £16.3m on other new schools and £6.7m for extra classrooms ay under-pressure schools.
* £7.9m towards the new Meadowbank Sports Centre.
* £8.9m for Water of Leith flood prevention.
* £18.5m for roads and pavements.
* £12.5m for street lighting.
* £34.7m for more affordable housing via National Housing Trust.
‘Spending not possible without savings’
The last few years have been challenging for the city council, as they have been for all local authorities.
Demand for services continues to rise amidst increasingly tight financial constraints and a growing, ageing population.
When we became the first council in Scotland to set our budget last year, we did so under similar pressures. Thanks, however, to an unprecedented and wide-ranging programme of transformation, we were able to make the necessary savings at the same time as achieving service improvements and balancing our budget for the ninth consecutive year. The momentum established puts us in a stronger financial position to deliver savings.
Over the last 12 months we have successfully delivered several high profile projects for Edinburgh, including the completion of a new Portobello High School, the pioneering roll-out of 20mph limits and the establishment of our own arm’s-length energy services company, Energy for Edinburgh. At the same time, we’re still on track to make a necessary £73 million of savings for 2016/17. As we prepare to set the 2017/18 budget, it gives us the opportunity to reflect on all that’s been accomplished by the Capital Coalition since its formation.
We have adopted an open and transparent approach, involving the public. As our external auditor has noted, we have addressed our immediate financial challenges effectively – we reduced our borrowing by £100m between March 2014 and March 2016 – whilst putting in place solid foundations to sustain investment in key services.
I’m proud to look back over this period, during which time we have delivered some of the most significant projects in Edinburgh’s recent history, amongst these the investment of more than £600m in affordable homes, the creation of the Edinburgh Guarantee to support young people into jobs and apprenticeships and the Edinburgh Trams.
Now, as we look forward, we are still committed to investing in infrastructure. We have developed a five-year, £440m investment programme.
But this spending will not be possible without efficiencies in other areas. We’ve already approved £40m worth of savings in 2017/18 but now have further savings to make.
Continuing with council-wide transformation will achieve some of these savings but we are also proposing to increase council tax for the first time in nine years. This necessary change will enable us to continue providing the services that matter.
Involving citizens in the budget-setting process has always been a priority. This year has been no different, with almost 2000 people responding to the “Play Your Part” budget consultation.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin is the city’s finance leader