Ministers are under growing pressure to release all documents on maintenance of the Forth Road Bridge following revelations that officials were warned of the need for urgent repairs ten months ago.
Labour called on the Scottish Government to “come clean” and be fully transparent about when it first became aware of pressure on the bridge’s truss end links – one of which has since cracked, causing the bridge’s closure.
However, transport minister Derek Mackay last night hit back by accusing Labour of “deliberately misinterpreting the facts and information for petty party political gain”. He also insisted that the structural problems were “unforeseen”.
The demand for full disclosure, from Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley, came after leaked emails showed government officials were told of the need for urgent repairs to the bridge in February. Chief engineer Barry Colford ordered restrictions on the passage of abnormal loads weighing more than 150 tonnes after analysis of the loading pressure on the bridge’s truss end links.
In an email to Lesley Hinds, convenor of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), which ran the bridge until May, Mr Colford said: “The restriction needs to be in place until all the truss end links are either strengthened or replaced.”
He also said that he would discuss the matter with Transport Scotland.
Mr Rowley, a Fife MSP, demanded “full transparency” from the Scottish Government about when problems with the bridge were detected.
He said: “The SNP government can’t continue to hide behind spin on the Forth Road Bridge. They need to come clean and release all documentation related to repair works on the bridge.
“The fact that as far back as February there were concerns about the safety of the bridge is very concerning.
“The idea that problems with the bridge were unforeseen, as Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay have claimed, just doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny.”
Opposition parties have also called for a full parliamentary inquiry into the closure of the crossing, which is due to reopen in the New Year.
Holyrood’s infrastructure committee will consider options for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the closure of the bridge at a meeting on Wednesday.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called for any parliamentary inquiry to take evidence from Mr Colford, as well as former operating officer Alistair Andrew. Mr Rennie said: “The priority must remain getting the bridge open as soon as possible and minimising the disruption that people are facing. But we cannot ignore serious questions over how we ended up in this situation.
“If an inquiry fails to take evidence from Mr Colford and Mr Andrew then people will have legitimate concerns that crucial information could be missed.”
Mr Mackay said he would “share any information I have” about the bridge as he dismissed claims the government was withholding any records of problems with the crossing.
The minister also denied suggestions that officials had been aware that parts of the bridge needed to be replaced. Mr Mackay said: “The works that were identified in that email and those reports were works on another part of the structure which were very much under way by FETA at the time.
“The facts remain that the particular fault that’s caused the crack, that’s caused the damage and the closure to the bridge, was not predicted and was not identified, therefore it remains the case that this incident was unforeseen.
“I’ve now come to the conclusion that Labour are now deliberately misinterpreting the facts and information for petty party political gain and that’s the wrong thing to do.
“The right thing to do is put all energy and focus on fixing this bridge, getting it reopened, whilst mitigating the impact on the local community. That’s exactly what I am doing and will continue to do.”
Campaigners yesterday called for more investment in public transport in the wake of the closure of the bridge.
The Scottish Association for Public Transport and transport alliance Transform Scotland said the closure of the crossing for repairs should act as a “wake-up call” for the Scottish Government. They have appealed to Finance Secretary John Swinney to prioritise public transport over road building when he sets out his Budget for 2016-17 on Wednesday.
Paul Tetlaw, from Transform Scotland, said: “It shouldn’t take a crisis such as this to highlight the need for additional and prioritised public transport options on key routes.”