Forth Road Bridge safety fears ‘were known in February’

Derek Mackay admitted proposed repair work would have dealth with the crack. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

Derek Mackay admitted proposed repair work would have dealth with the crack. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

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SOME heavy goods vehicles had been banned from using the Forth Road bridge as far back as last February amid fears over safety, it has emerged.

Chief engineer Barry Colford imposed the measure on “abnormal” loads as concerns grew over the pressure on the “truss end links” – which have since cracked, resulting in the closure of the vital crossing. The restriction was to remain in place until these were replaced, new documents uncovered by Labour have revealed.

They also indicate that vital maintenance work earmarked for the bridge was delayed as a result of budgets cuts, contrary to Scottish Government claims.

The revelations were branded “extraordinary” by Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley.

He said: “The fact that as far back as February there were concerns about the safety of the bridge is very concerning. We now know the chief engineer was so concerned about the safety of the bridge that certain vehicles were prevented from travelling on it. We need full transparency from the SNP government about this. The idea that problems with the bridge were unforeseen, as Nicola Sturgeon and [Transport Minister] Derek Mackay have claimed, just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”

The closure of the bridge has brought widespread disruption for thousands of commuters who normally use it every day, while businesses have warned they are poised to lose millions of pounds in trade. Work to repair the 20mm crack is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks with the bridge earmarked to reopen early in the new year.

A dossier published by Labour today finds that work on the truss end link was earmarked in a report by the chief engineer as far back as 2009. Another report from February this year found that these “critical structural members were found to be significantly overstressed”.

Mackay came under fire this week after telling MSPs in a statement to Parliament on Tuesday that proposed repair work would not have any impact on the area which cracked. However, he admitted in an interview the following day that it would have seen this area replaced.

Ministers have also rejected claims that funding cuts resulted in major repairs being axed. But minutes from a meeting of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, which formerly operated the bridge, reveal a number of projects have been axed as a result of cuts including “full replacement of the truss end links”.

A report by the chief engineer in August 2013 set out the repairs which had to be cancelled as a result of funding cuts – which included the “truss end linkages work”.

It warns that deferral of these works does “increase the risk to the long term structural integrity of the bridge”.