AN expert engineer has been drafted onto the inquiry into the Forth Road Bridge to help stop the closure of the crossing becoming a political football.
The Scottish Parliament’s infrastructure committee announced last month it was launching a probe into why the bridge had to shut to all traffic after a crack was discovered on a key structural section.
Committee convener Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie promised a “robust piece of work” to establish if anything could have been done to prevent the closure and learn lessons for the future.
Now the committee has appointed Alan Simpson, a chartered engineer with over 40 years’ experience, including working on previous projects on the Forth Road Bridge, to give them independent expert advice.
The closure of the crossing – which has now reopened to all but HGVs – sparked criticism from opposition parties over Scottish Government cuts in funding for the bridge.
Ministers insisted all necessary maintenance had been done and the crack which caused the closure had been “unforeseeable”.
A source close to the committee said: “The appointment of Alan Simpson as specialist adviser will help the committee cut through the claims and counter-claims that have been made and get to the nub of what has actually gone wrong.”
The committee is due to begin taking oral evidence on January 20.
Mr Simpson, now retired, was born in Edinburgh, graduated in engineering science and economics in 1972 and worked as a civil engineer in London before returning to Scotland in 1979, where he joined consultant engineers WA Fairhurst and Partners in their Glasgow office.
“He worked on a wide range of civil engineering projects, specialising in roads, bridges, water supply and sewerages schemes.
He carried out assessments on parts of the Forth Road Bridge during the 1980s and led the team which designed and implemented the strengthening works to the main towers which was completed in 1997.
He has also been involved in a number of other projects covering the design of temporary works and maintenance on the bridge.
Mr Eadie said: “The committee was unanimous that he was the best candidate for this role which will be invaluable in allowing the committee to scrutinise and interpret the evidence, especially the evidence provided by expert witnesses during the course of our inquiry.
“The appointment underlines the seriousness with which the committee is approaching this piece of work.”
Transport minister Derek Mackay told MSPs new state-of-the-art monitoring equipment – electronic strain gauges and tilt meters – has been installed on the bridge.
Work on a permanent repair to allow HGVs to use the bridge again is about to start and is due for completion by mid-February.