Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon denies Forth Road Bridge maintenance cuts

Nicola Sturgeon is briefed in the Resilience Room within Traffic Scotland Control Centre at South Queensferry Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon is briefed in the Resilience Room within Traffic Scotland Control Centre at South Queensferry

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said it is "absolutely" not true that cuts to maintenance budgets led to the closure of the Forth Road Bridge.

The bridge will be closed to all traffic until the new year after a defect was found in one of the support beams on the north tower.

Ms Sturgeon said all maintenance that had been required to be done on the bridge had been done.

She said the crack that resulted in the bridge closure was "unforeseeable".

The bridge was closed on Friday after a failure of the "inner link support beam to the North east tower truss end link".

Bridge engineer Mark Arndt explained how a crack of about 2cm in width had appeared in the load-bearing link.

In 2010 plans to strengthen the truss end linkage system, which was found to "be significantly overstressed", were advertised and then cancelled.

It was just one of those things - I saw it out the corner of my eye and thought, I hope that isn't what I think it is."

Robert McCulloch, engineer who discovered Forth Road Bridge fault

Engineer John Carson, who led the team that constructed the Skye Bridge, told BBC Scotland: "The advertisement in 2010 told the whole world that there was a problem with these truss rod ends.

"I'm sure a lot of people must have read it.

"But it was suddenly withdrawn. I know that Transport Scotland has exerted pressures on the now defunct Feta (Forth Estuary Transport Authority) on budgetary control."

Transport Scotland insisted the 2010 strengthening programme and last week's problem were "unrelated".

It said the Scottish government had fully funded all programmes since taking over the funding of the annual grant from Feta in 2008.

Image copyright Forth Road Bridge
Image caption Engineers showed pictures of the crack in the truss under the bridge carriageway
Image copyright Forth Road Bridge
Image caption The diagram shows the location of the defective steel component

Transport Scotland said that Amey, the private contractor that is now responsible for bridge maintenance, had told it that the ongoing truss end strengthening works were to a different part of the linkage system to that which failed.

Ms Sturgeon told BBC Scotland it was "absolutely, unequivocally not true" that maintenance budgets had been cut in the hope that the current bridge would last long enough for the new Queensferry Crossing to open at the end of next year.

She said: "The maintenance that has been required to be done on the bridge has been done.

"There is a repair, before this fault was spotted, that has already been under way to the same part of the bridge.

Image caption Engineer John Carson said a plan to strengthen truss rod ends was cancelled

"The fault that was spotted last week and that we are now working to repair is completely unrelated to the fault that was already being worked on.

"So there is no relationship at all. This crack that has resulted in the bridge being closed was, as I am told by engineers, unforeseen and unforeseeable.

"It is the type of fault that has been unpredictable and happened very quickly."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie told BBC Scotland: "I want to find out the truth about this issues. I want to find out what's gone wrong in the past, if anything has gone wrong. But also make sure that for the rest of this bridge's life, we've got a proper management and inspection regime in place."

Meanwhile, hauliers have warned they may seek compensation for extra costs totalling £600,000 a day because of the Forth Road Bridge delays and diversions.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the main diversion route was adding an extra £30 in fuel costs.

The Scottish government said the alternative travel arrangements were working better than expected.

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