Scotland politics

Forth Road Bridge closure: Opposition parties call for inquiry

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Media captionDerek Mackay was speaking to the BBC's Scotland 2015 programme

Holyrood's Opposition parties have called for a parliamentary inquiry into the closure of the Forth Road Bridge.

Labour's Alex Rowley and the Conservative's Murdo Fraser said key questions, including about maintenance of the structure, needed answering.

Their plea came as Transport Minister Derek Mackay addressed MSPs about the closure which happened last Friday.

Outside the chamber, he told the BBC he would co-operate with an inquiry if one was called.

He emphasised that it would be up to the parliamentary authorities to conduct an investigation.

Speaking to the BBC's Scotland 2015 programme, Mr Mackay said: "We are more than happy to co-operate with an inquiry and answer any question that is asked. If people want more information, then that can be provided."

Earlier, he had told Holyrood that the fault was not predicted and maintenance programmes had not been curtailed.

Mr Mackay said: "On balance, following advice from engineers, closure is the right decision - essential for the safety of the travelling public and to prevent further damage to the structure of the bridge."

He reiterated that the fault had "only occurred in the last few weeks".

Mr Mackay said MSPs had been offered a "technical brief" about the situation.

He added: "We will be transparent around the nature of this fault which I think shows that the government has taken all appropriate action."

On the issue of funding, the minister said: "There are no critical repairs that were requested to be funded by Feta [Forth Estuary Transport Authority] that haven't been funded by government or Transport Scotland."

Earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "absolutely" not true that cuts to maintenance budgets led to the closure.

Image copyright Forth Road Bridge
Image caption Gritters have been used in tests on the bridge

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

A crack of about 2cm in width had appeared in the load-bearing link.

On Tuesday, engineers used gritters to carry out a controlled test to check out structural behaviour on the bridge.

Detailed repairs will be carried out next week and Mr Mackay said it was hoped the bridge would re-open "in time for people to return to work in the new year".

Bridge maintenance

Mr Rowley said the issue was a "serious one" and "no stone should be left unturned" in finding out why it had happened.

He added: "The Forth Road Bridge is one of the most important transport links in Scotland, it is crucial for the east of Scotland economy.

"Transport authorities need to be well resourced for the challenges we face over the next month and potentially beyond - but we also need full and frank answers on what has gone wrong here.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The road bridge was closed on Friday after engineers assessed the fault needed urgent attention

"There appear to be a string of issues around the Forth Road Bridge going back years. We need answers as to what has gone wrong here."

Mr Fraser echoed Labour's call for a parliamentary inquiry saying it was the only way to "find out the facts".

He said: "While the efforts of the Scottish government, its agencies and the transport companies are appreciated, there are still problems and the priority must be resolving these.

"But we also need to have a fully independent inquiry into what went wrong, and that has to report early in the new year."

Transport Scotland insisted a 2010 strengthening programme that was subsequently cancelled, 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.

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

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