Forth Road Bridge Repairs 'On Track'

10 December 2015, 12:18 | Updated: 10 December 2015, 12:20

The repair of the Forth Road Bridge remains "on track'' despite high winds which have hampered the efforts of engineers, transport minister Derek Mackay has said.

A repair plan involving plate-welding the damaged truss link and jacking it into place has now been finalised by engineering firm Amey and checked by two independent engineering firms.

An access platform is being constructed to allow welders to work day and night, when weather conditions permit.

The repair update comes after Mr Mackay said on Wednesday that former bridge operator Feta, which was governed by a board of cross-party councillors, rejected a wide programme of repair work in 2010.

It "would have seen the replacement of that area and much more'' but Feta "re-scoped their work'' following the advice of engineers.

Speaking from the Forth Road Bridge, Mr Mackay said: "I'm very happy that we have identified the design solution, the repair, the fix to the Forth Road Bridge.

"That will allow us to begin that work and have the bridge reopen as quickly as possible.

"The reopening of the Forth Road Bridge remains on track.

"This repair will be implemented over a two-week period. The week of design has been under way.

"People have been working 24/7 around the clock to deliver that, so the timescale that I've set out - that the bridge will be reopened for people going back to work for the start of the new year - is very much on track.''

Chartered engineer Mark Arndt, Amey's account director responsible for the bridge, said: "Our teams have been working 24/7 since the defect was identified a little over a week ago.

"Our design teams have finalised the detailed solution plan, the access platform is under construction and we've mobilised all the resources we need to begin the repair works.

"Progress of the repair work is vulnerable to weather conditions.

"Wind speeds at times make it unsafe for our people to continue but by having our personnel on stand-by at the bridge and by monitoring live wind-speed data in our control room we're able to get straight back out to work on the repairs in every available window, and our programme remains on schedule for completion in the New Year.''

In addition to repairing the defect, Amey is taking preventative action on another seven similar locations on the bridge to prevent any issues from occurring and structural monitoring systems are also being installed at these locations.

Mr Mackay insisted he has been "completely accountable and transparent'' over the bridge situation.

It comes after he was accused by an opposition MSP of misleading the Scottish Parliament in his statements about the bridge.

The transport minister said on Wednesday that Forth Road Bridge bosses had considered replacing the part of the crossing which cracked five years ago but decided not to.

Mr Mackay told MSPs the day before that cancelled 2010 work relating to the bridge's truss end links was "not where the fault has occurred''.

Labour's James Kelly said the statements were "contradictory'' and that it appeared Mr Mackay has "misled'' Parliament.

Mr Mackay insisted that the fault being worked on had only occurred in the last few weeks.

He said on Thursday: "I've given parliament an accurate account of the information that I've had and the nature of events, so I have been completely accountable and transparent and I'll continue to make myself accountable and transparent.

"But everyone is asking me 'get this bridge fixed as quickly as possible' and that's where my efforts are focused and that's where the engineers who are working on this bridge will continue to have their efforts focused.''

He also said: "In 2010 this fault which caused the closure of the bridge was not identified. This crack has only appeared in the last few weeks and that's what's being remedied.''

Asked whether he was fighting for his political life, he said: "My priority has to be to fix this bridge, mitigate the impact for communities and to focus on that, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

"In terms of transparency and accountability, I'll make myself available to parliament if they want to hold an inquiry.

"I've given a statement to parliament and I've shared the engineering expert advice that I've been given. And, further, I'll share that with MSPs at a technical briefing on Monday.

"So, I'll continue to do the job, which is fix the bridge and ensure the transport system works as best as it can to keep people moving.''

He added: "I believe I'm doing my best in clearly difficult circumstances and I'll continue to do my best to ensure this programme of repair is kept on track and delivered.''