SCEPTICAL MSPs have cast doubt on Scottish Government claims that it learned only last week of a delay of up to six months in the opening of the new Forth road bridge.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown announced yesterday that the £1.35 billion Queensferry Crossing – originally due to open in December this year – was now expected to be completed in mid-May 2017.
Mr Brown told MSPs the problem had been bad weather in April and May and insisted the delay was “a very recent development”.
But opposition politicians questioned whether ministers might have known earlier and deliberately kept it quiet until after the election.
Mr Brown said contractors Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors (FCBC) submitted a progress update last week, showing the contingency time allowed for bad weather been “used up”.
He said: “Since deck-lifting operations commenced in September 2015, the downtime due to adverse weather, specifically wind, has been 40 per cent compared to the 25 per cent anticipated.
“Until May, FCBC believed that they could mitigate these weather effects. However, the impact of the weather in April and May was particularly severe, with 13 days and 12 days lost to weather respectively.
“As a result, FCBC have advised ministers that due to the combined effects of the time lost in these two months they can no longer deliver the December 2016 target opening date for the structure.”
He said there would be no additional cost to taxpayers and a previous projection of a £245m saving still held.
But Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said Mr Brown’s statement suggested a project in “abject distress”.
He demanded: “How on earth does the loss of 25 days to weather in April and May equate to a 180-day delay in opening the bridge? Does he take us for fools?
“And does he now expect parliament to believe that the first ministers learned of this was conveniently just days after the Scottish election?”
Mr Brown hit back, saying: “You wouldn’t find a project in abject distress that had a saving of £254m attached to it – if you compare that, for example, with the cost of the Lib Dems’ favoured trams project in Edinburgh, I think you’ll see that was a project in abject distress.”
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser asked: “Is it true that contractors working on the new bridge were aware of the delay some weeks ago and were asked to sign confidentiality agreements not to disclose that information until after the Scottish Parliament election on May 5?”
Mr Brown said the government had never entered into any such confidentiality agreements with contractors.