Wednesday 18th November 2009
Scotsman 'Platform' article by Lawrence Marshall, Chair of the ForthRight Alliance
The case for the bridge is built on unstable foundations. It is based on the misleading contention that the existing Forth Road Bridge is beyond repair. Given such scare-mongering, it is not unexpected that many politicians have been fooled into supporting the case for an additional bridge. Working to resolve the problems of the existing bridge should be the top priority of the Scottish Government rather than pursuing an unaffordable, unsustainable and unpopular second bridge.
The proposed new bridge is unaffordable. The proposals, which come with a huge £2,300 million price tag, come forward at a time when the Scottish Government is being advised by Audit Scotland that public sector budgets face being slashed by up to 13% by 2013-14. It would therefore be financially irresponsible for the Government to commit to constructing a second bridge when the existing bridge can and should be repaired. Is the Government prepared to advise public sector workers that their jobs and budgets will be cut so that this vanity project can proceed?
A new bridge is unsustainable. Months after the Scottish Parliament passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which commits Scotland to 80% cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions, we see the Government bring forward a new traffic-and emission-generating road bridge. To bring forward proposals for this project less than a month before the critical Copenhagen climate change summit brings into question the Government’s commitment to turn its environmental policies into action.
And a new bridge is unpopular. Earlier this month, a YouGov poll demonstrated the public unease that already exists over this project. The poll showed that 57% of Scots supported the option of repairing the existing Forth Road Bridge with only 34% supporting a “replacement” (in fact, an additional) bridge.
The proponents of this project have systematically misled the public. First they insisted that the existing bridge was beyond repair. When that contention was proved wrong, they have gone on to allege that repair would require the bridge’s closure. They are wrong on this too.
Work is underway to repair the bridge’s cables. But even were cable drying to fail, new cables would cost between £91 and £122 million, a tiny fraction of the cost of a new bridge.
The traffic management measures necessary if new cables were to be required – and that would only be the case if work to dry out the existing main cables proves unsuccessful – were clearly laid out in a report to FETA of 22 February 2008. For the vast majority of the time, most of the lanes of the bridge would remain open to traffic, although the report notes that there may be "additional short duration carriageway or total bridge closures at weekends and overnight".
Moreover, while the proposal’s proponents exaggerate to the point of falsehood the official position regarding traffic management works if new cables are required, they also fail to acknowledge that construction of an additional bridge will itself bring guaranteed traffic disruption. Indeed, Transport Scotland are on record as saying that the re-modelling of the Ferrytoll interchange in order to accommodate another bridge will be "more complicated and challenging than the bridge itself".
It is our view, therefore, that any Ministerial decision to commit to an additional bridge costing the public purse up to £2,300 million would be, to say the least, premature. Moreover, it would damage the prospects for other more pressing public spending priorities in Scotland and rule out meeting our climate change targets. Is it any wonder, then, that Scots see repair rather than an additional bridge as the best way forward?
As submitted on 17/11/09; published on 18/11/09.