AN inquiry into the Forth Road Bridge Christmas closure has been labelled a “big disappointment” that failed to highlight the massive financial cost to business, opposition MSPs have claimed.
The SNP-dominated infrastructure and capital investment committee said the structural defects that halted traffic, with heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) not allowed on to the crossing until February, could not have been foreseen.
The bridge was closed for two-and-a-half weeks after a steel pin was found to have seized in the “truss” support structure, under the bridge’s southbound carriageway.
Opposition parties had claimed that officials were warned of the need for urgent repairs ten months ago and that work which could have averted its closure was shelved by the Scottish Government, due to a lack of money,
However, the committee stated that transport experts it had heard from, as part of an inquiry into the bridge closure, found the “defect which caused the closure of the bridge could not have been foreseen”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie criticised the committee for failing to call for a fund to compensate haulage firms whose profits were squeezed due to bridge restrictions imposed on HGVs.
Mr Rennie said: “This report is a big disappointment and doesn’t nearly go far enough.
“The Forth Road Bridge is a major artery that closed on the government’s watch. They should not leave businesses to pick up the tab.
“[The] committee has recognised itself that bridge users and particularly hauliers were severely affected by the closure.
“Hundreds of thousands of pounds were lost by businesses.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said the bridge closure highlighted the Scottish Government’s “penny pinching approach to its responsibilities”.
He said: “The Scottish Government’s slow response in repairing the bridge has had a catastrophic impact on people and businesses.
“Drivers were inconvenienced at one of the busiest times of the year and the delay in opening the bridge to heavy trucks and haulage vehicles has cost businesses greatly with no prospect of any compensation.”
Committee convener Jim Eadie, an SNP MSP, setting out the report’s findings, said: “All of our witnesses were of the view that the defect which caused the closure of the bridge could not have been foreseen.”
Pete Boyd-Cross, deputy manager of the Miller & Carter Cramond Brig steakhouse, said the restaurant had lost £7000 in the first days of the closure.
In December he suggested some form of compensation should be issued to local businesses to make up for their lost earnings.
He said at the time: “Over the week we have lost about £7000 – and that’s just to Saturday.
“Sunday was quieter than normal by about £2000. It’s just opened our eyes...”