The Scottish Government was under renewed attack today for a lack of transparency over the future governance of the Forth road bridges – despite agreeing to publish minutes of the new advisory body.
Transport Minister Keith Brown told MSPs that agendas and minutes of the Forth Bridges Forum would in future be made available on line. But meetings of the forum will still be in private, while government agency Transport Scotland admitted the reports to be considered by the forum would not be published as a matter of course.
The government has resisted calls to allow councillors to sit on the forum, which will help oversee the bridges once the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) is abolished in 2015. Instead, it will comprise officials from Edinburgh, Fife and West Lothian councils and representatives of Historic Scotland, Network Rail, Transport Scotland and Visit Scotland.
Terry Airlie, secretary of Queensferry and District Community Council, said it was disappointing if all that could be seen was a bullet points agenda and minutes. He said people did look at Feta’s papers.
“We’re always interested to see what’s happening and if there are things to be discussed that will have an impact on the local community,” he said. “The Queensferry councillor was always on Feta so we always had a contact about issues that mattered to us. We’re worried that’s just something we’re not going to have any more.”
From June 2015, management and maintenance of the bridge and the new Forth Replacement Crossing will be handed to a private contractor.
Edinburgh Northern & Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said it was “very regrettable” there were no councillors on the forum.
“The very least they can do is make sure they are completely open and transparent in their procedures,” he said.
“I can’t think of any reason why the meetings should be in private or why the reports they are considering should not be published. The issues they will be dealing with will be similar to those Feta deals with just now in a completely open way.
“There are already fears that with a private company operating the bridge we are going to lose democratic accountability and they should be doing all they can to dispel those fears.”
City transport convener Lesley Hinds said the decision to publish agendas and minutes was a welcome move, but hoped Mr Brown would look again at making meeting papers available too.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Forth Bridges Forum provides for an open exchange of views among those bodies with a responsibility for and an interest in the operation of the bridges. This includes local authorities who can represent the views of residents.
“The first main task for the forum is the World Heritage Site bid and community groups are already part the relevant steering group. Further proposals to involve the community will be developed and presented before the new bridge opens. FETA continue to be responsible for operations and maintenance until June 2015.”