Edinburgh council barred from Forth bridges group

Alex Salmond wants to take control of Forth road bridges away from Edinburgh councillors. Montage: Dave Hamburgh
Alex Salmond wants to take control of Forth road bridges away from Edinburgh councillors. Montage: Dave Hamburgh
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ELECTED representatives from the Capital are to be barred from sitting on the advisory body for the two Forth Road Bridges in a move branded “undemocratic” by critics.

The Scottish Government has turned down a plea for councillors to be included on the Forth Bridges Forum to represent the interests of local people and the city’s tourism and economic interests.

Transport Minister Keith Brown told MSPs that having councillors involved would “muddy the waters”.

The existing Forth Road Bridge is managed by the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta), which has four members each from Edinburgh and Fife councils and one each from West Lothian and Perth & Kinross. But Feta is being scrapped and both the current crossing and the new £1.6 billion bridge now under construction will be managed and maintained by a private company.

Today, the Scottish Government decision was slammed by Edinburgh councillors who said it was a power grab from Holyrood.

Councillor Joanna Mowatt, Tory shadow transport spokesperson, branded the move “shocking”.

She said: “Councillors are democratically elected to represent the people and the bridge has an effect across the whole of the city, not just communities that live nearby it.

“I sometimes wonder whether the Scottish Government wants to consolidate all powers at Holyrood. They are very happy to for us to deliver their objectives but don’t seem to want us to have the democratic role that we have been elected to do.

“The Scottish Government seems to view the council as purely there to deliver their objectives and concentrate power in the centre – that leads to democratic deficit. I think it’s shocking and undemocratic.”

City leaders had argued that to ensure a democratic voice for the communities directly affected by the bridges it was essential that the local authorities previously represented on Feta were given places on the forum.

And city transport convener Lesley Hinds said councillors should have a place on the forum to ensure local people have a democratic voice.

She said barring elected representatives of the communities directly affected by the bridges meant they would have nowhere to air concerns and there would be no opportunity to promote the city’s strategic interests.

She said: “Everyone says there are too many unelected quangos in charge of things nowadays. We are elected by the people in our own areas and I’m transport convener for the city.

“These are iconic structures which are vital for tourism and the economy of the city and it would be helpful for us to have a place on the forum.”

Despite this the government has said it is only willing to have officials from the council sitting on the forum along with representatives from Historic Scotland, Network Rail and VisitScotland.

Mr Brown told the Scottish Parliament’s infrastructure committee: “It would be absolutely unique to have elected representatives at that level involved in looking after an operating contract which was wholly the responsibility of Scottish ministers. Feta was a completely different body from what’s going to be established now. Transport Scotland and the government will be standing behind this so the democratic accountability is there because of that. I don’t think we should complicate that further by putting in other elected representatives who won’t be responsible for spending decisions.”