Green light for new Forth Bridge 16 | 12 | 2010

    THE NEW CROSSING over the River Forth has been given the green light. But despite the Scottish Parliament voted by 108-3 for the new crossing, some people predict the new bridge is nothing more than a wasted "£2 billion punt".

    It's been well documented the third crossing is required because of fears that corrosion of the Forth Road Bridge could force vehicle bans. And all three political parties united in agreeing the new Edinburgh-Fife bridge is vital for the Scottish economy. Construction is due to start next year.

    Not surprisingly, of course, the united stance — and the ultimate decision — was criticised by the Greens who described the vast cost as a gamble. Their stance is it would not be known until 2012 whether work to halt the existing bridge's main cable corrosion had been successful.

    Of more significance was the growing disquiet from MSPs that the current Forth Road Bridge would be restricted to buses and taxis after the new bridge is completed in 2016.

    "The idea that nothing other than a bus or two crosses over every half-hour is patently ridiculous," Jackson Carlaw, the Conservative transport spokesman who also chaired the Holyrood committee scrutinising the project, said. "So the need to agree on what the future of the existing bridge will be should be the subject of a future public debate."

    Meanwhile the new transport minister Keith Brown — taking time out from overseeing the preparations to keep Scotland on the move should the latest warnings of snowy weather turn to white reality — admitted the go-ahead was vital.

    "The Forth replacement crossing project is absolutely vital to ensure Scotland's economic wellbeing," Brown stated. "Should the crossing be restricted or not available, there will be dire economic and social consequences."

    Mr Brown said MSPs would be "condemned by everyone in Scotland" if they postponed approving the new bridge until the next cable inspection in 2012 and found they had made the wrong decision.

    Current estimates are that lorries could have to be banned from the Forth Road Bridge as early as 2017 if the corrosion is not halted, with a new crossing expected to take six years to complete.

    Green MSP Patrick Harvie, the convener of the parliament's transport committee, however was quick to state his concerns about the new crossing.

    "We've been told not to take a gamble with Scotland's economy, but I think this is a £2 billion punt," Harvie said. "And it's not just the economy being put up as a stake, but also our social objectives."

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    Jim McGill

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