Scotland politics

Derek Mackay: Labour 'twisting facts' on bridge

Forth bridge Image copyright PA
Image caption The bridge has been closed to all traffic since 4 December, with the Scottish government hopeful of reopening it early in January

The transport minister has accused Labour politicians of deliberately "twisting the facts" over maintenance of the Forth Road Bridge.

Derek Mackay told BBC Scotland that Labour was attempting to make political capital from the bridge closure.

And he said the political row was a distraction from efforts to get the bridge open again as soon as possible.

Labour released an email at the weekend that showed "abnormal" heavy loads were banned from the bridge in February.

The email showed the chief engineer Barry Colford ordered restrictions on the passage of vehicles weighing more than 150 tonnes after analysis of the loading on the bridge's truss end links - one of which has cracked, forcing the bridge's complete closure to traffic.

Mr Colford said in the document: "The restriction needs to be in place until all the truss end links are either strengthened or replaced."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley claimed the email undermined claims by SNP ministers that the crack was "unforeseen and unforeseeable."

Image caption The email said only "one or two" abnormal load of more than 150 tonnes crossed the bridge every few years
Image copyright PA
Image caption Steel plates have been cut at Watson Towers in Coatbridge to be made into the specific components that will fix the truss end on the Forth Road Bridge

But government agency Transport Scotland has said the restriction on exceptionally- large abnormal loads was not related to the present defect on the bridge.

Instead, it said it was related to potential unacceptable overstress to the truss end brackets and associated welds within the towers, which was being addressed by the ongoing strengthening works.

It also insisted the defect that resulted in the bridge closure was only identified in the past few weeks, and had not been previously predicted by engineers.

Mr Mackay told BBC Scotland Labour had been "deliberately misinterpreting and twisting the facts for their own petty party political gain."

He added: "The priority right now should be to reopen that bridge, mitigate the impact on the community, as I am doing, and focus on that.

"I won't have the engineers distracted by the party games that Labour wishes to play. I have mobilised every resource to get that bridge open as quickly as possible and that is what the community wants."

Image copyright PA

A Scottish Parliament committee is to examine options for a "focused inquiry" into the issues leading to the closure of the bridge, which Mr Mackay said he welcomed.

He also said there would be public access to all documents related to the bridge's maintenance - which Labour had called for.

Mr Mackay also said he believed his job was secure, and that he would "show a full account of events which will prove that the Scottish government has taken the right decisions".

Responding to Mr Mackay's remarks, Mr Rowley said Labour would continue to push for a public inquiry into the bridge closure.

The Cowdenbeath MSP added: "I think it is right that my constituents and constituents across Fife and further afield in the east of Scotland are able to ask questions without being pilloried by a transport minister.

"I have worked alongside Derek Mackay over this last week and a half. I have in the parliament praised Derek Mackay for the work that he has done to try and mitigate the situation that we find ourselves in.

"But that surely doesn't mean that I am then not going to ask him questions when more and more information becomes available that suggests that there was a knowledge both within Transport Scotland and the government that there was a level of risk if we didn't maintain the bridge to a certain standard."

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