Why we should mothball the Forth replacement crossing

bruce whiteheadBruce Whitehead, a freelance journalist with an engineering degree from Napier University, has a novel idea for the new Forth crossing: let’s stop building it.


If you’ve been stuck in traffic queues to get across the Forth recently, you may well react with an expletive or two when I suggest that the Forth road bridge replacement shouldn’t be built… yet.

A few years ago I was chair of the ForthRight Alliance, opposed to the building of a Forth replacement crossing. Given the Christmas “cracker” we got from the Forth Road Bridge a month ago, you might not think this is something I’d admit to. But this was years before a one-inch break was found in a road deck beam.

Back in 2008, the only justification the government had for replacing the bridge was flimsy. We were told by FETA, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority which maintained the crossing, that they’d found corrosion in the cables which support the roadway. About 100 of the 22,000 wires which are bundled together to form the main suspension cables, or less than half of 1%, were affected.

This minimal corrosion was the sole reason why the SNP government had argued for replacing the bridge. At the time, the Bridgemaster (sounds like a Game of Thrones character), Barry Colford, told me that although he was “highly confident” that drying out the cables would work, he couldn’t be 100% certain – even though sixteen other major suspension bridges installed de-humidification during construction, and they were all fine. But because FETA was retro-fitting the driers, there was a small chance that it might not work.

Now, Barry Colford has to sleep at night (even now, in his present job in America, he fondly dreams about Queensferry). He had to be satisfied that the bridge wouldn’t suddenly, or even gradually, fall apart. So it’s understandable that “highly confident” wouldn’t do. His predecessor though, Alistair Andrew, had relied on the engineering doctrine of “factor of safety” to assess maintenance projects. A factor of 2.0 is the minimum required to allow bridgemasters to sleep at night; the Forth bridge, even after suffering corroded wires, still came in at 2.3, only marginally down from the figure when brand-new, 40 years before.

Three years ago the government quietly admitted that the corrosion had been halted. But because the £2bn Queensferry Crossing had already been started, it had to be completed. I disagree, and I think there’s a way to pause the new bridge to free up sorely needed cash.

About half of the £2bn bridge (which lost its cyclepath and walkway to save money) has been built. But since then Scotland has, like the rest of the UK, been bludgeoned by austerity.*
[* austerity  /ɔːˈster.ɪ.ti/  (n.) the financial practice of taxing the poor to pay for the gambling debts of rich bankers.]

Two weeks ago John Swinney, the bank manager (sorry, finance minister; he does look like a bank manager though!) told us he could no longer find enough money to fund £320m worth of essential council services, so this sum would be deducted from the grant given to local authorities. That’s nearly a million pounds a day. The impact is clear to anyone working in public services, supplying the public sector, or using council services (i.e. all of us).

Sports centres in South Lanarkshire, children’s services in Edinburgh, adult education and mental health services in Glasgow… all of these are taking serious hits, slashing funding, cancelling classes, courses, support training. 60,000 council jobs have been cut by the government since 2010.

But there’s an alternative. Now that the Forth Road Bridge has been fixed again, and will be open for all traffic in a few weeks, engineers fully expect it to function normally for its entire design life: that’s 125 years, so 2089.

Now, I know they dropped the ball a little with the corrosion; they should have seen that coming sooner. And maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to privatise bridge maintenance to a firm without the tolls income (helpfully abolished by none other than bank manag… sorry Finance Minister John Swinney in 2008). But this time the bridge should be fine. Fingers crossed. And that means that we don’t need the other one – not yet anyway.

Not spending the remaining £1bn will fund the reversal of John Swinney’s planned council budget cuts for three years. Surely that’s a higher priority?

Engineering projects are often mothballed and kept for when they might be needed in the future. The Queensferry Crossing could be kept oiled and wrapped up until, say, 2085, leaving four years to add on the remaining bits of Lego. A doddle. I know what I’d do.

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57 thoughts on “Why we should mothball the Forth replacement crossing

  1. It is the most embarrassingly simplistic drivel to imagine that stopping construction of a £2bn bridge half way through would save half the cost. Bruce Whitehead may know a wee bit about engineering. But he clearly knows less than nothing about contract law. Every business involved in the building of the Forth Replacement Crossing would demand compensation. They would win pretty much every claim. What with legal costs, it’s not difficult to imagine that building half the bridge would be at least as expensive as building the whole thing.

    Consider the materials. They will all have been ordered by this stage and will still have to be paid for even if they are left to rot in some storage facility. Doubtless a rather expensive storage facility.

    Then there’s the matter of maintenance. I am not an engineer. But I’d be prepared to venture a small wager that preserving an unfinished bridge is going to be a more expensive than maintaining the finished structure. I suspect that there are parts of that structure which are only designed to be exposed for the length of time it takes to build on the bits that will cover them. It’s a bloody great bridge! It can’t just be wrapped in cling-film!

    And what about the political fall-out?

    Oh! Hang on a minute! Perhaps we’ve stumbled upon the real reason for publishing this nonsense. It’s nothing to do with either engineering or finance. It’s just a laboriously contrived device by which to try and squeeze a bit more mileage out of the Forth Road Bridge “scandal”. It’s no more than a continuation of the grotesquely petty politics that is all we get from British Labour in Scotland.

    There is, of course, no way that the Scottish Government is going to halt work on the new bridge. They are not stupid. Bruce Whitehead calls John Swinney a “bank manager” supposing this to be a derogatory epithet. Perhaps the Finance Secretary does look like a bank manager. But he most resembles a bank manager from an era when they were the epitome of dependability, fiscal prudence and solid integrity. So why bother even making this inane suggestion?

    One purpose of this article is to give Kezia Dugdale a superficially credible source of funds to finance all the things she claims the SNP administration should be doing to mitigate the austerity being imposed on Scotland by British Labour’s Better Together allies. Her habit and practice up to now has been to magic money out of this air. Or to spend the same money several times. Citing this article by an “expert”, she will now have a billion pounds of fantasy money with which to outbid a Scottish Government constrained by the limitations of reality.

    The media will, as always, pick up the refrain from the establishment parties. In the surreal world of the anti-SNP propaganda campaign it is but a short step from the bunkum of Bruce Whitehead’s article to a ponderously preposterous piece from Magnus Gardham condemning the SNP for failing to fail to complete the new bridge.

    1. In fairness, building half a bridge at the cost (at least) of a completed project sounds like the standard practice we’ve come to expect from the Scottish accounting office of UK labour.

    2. Can somebody remind me what the then Labour administration had to pay in compensation for their cancelation of the bridge they were sponsoring across the same waters, some years back?

      I think the figure then, was about £200 million and not a sod of turf had been turned.

      Mr Whitehead does no favours for Labour Hame, for publishing this drivel, and to Napier for failing to teach him about project management and finance.

      At least he admits in his text that he is no Engineer. Modesty indeed.

      1. My mistake, sorry. Mr Whitehead says “he is no Engineer,” that was Peter Bell.

        I therefor withdraw my compliment of modesty.

    3. yet again it appears to verboten to actively consider the SNPs recrod of government. As a framing device bruces hook worked well. The nub of it is of course the politics. This is a political blog, and you are one of the nationalist supporters compelled to haunt such media outlets, no doubt believing you are “policing the internet” whilst you try to drown out democratic discussion.

      No one believes the contract will be cut mid build, not even bruce.
      clearly what is offending you is someone having the temerity to consider the SNPs increasingly poor record of government and its decision making processes.

      1. “Increasingly poor record of government” ?

        I think you may need to cite a few solid examples of this.

        1. I think the sudden materialisation of the pathetic SNPBAD meme demonstrates there are many solid examples of this.
          That is for anyone who hasnt been conditioned by their party of choice to ignore the regulated media because its part of an anti scotland establishment conspiracy.

  2. ROTFLMAO. I had to check the calendar just to make sure it was January the 1st and not April the 1st.

    Takes a real brass pair to publish this on here after all the previous SNP bad pish published on this site over the failure of not having a second crossing ready when cracks appeared.

    You deserved to be wiped out in Scotland.

    1. A complete fabrication on your part. Criticism of SNP was the massive budgetary cuts to neccesary maintenance which directly contributed to the recent bridge failure.

      1. Utter mince!
        The bridge authorities were given a pot of money to see them through until the new bridge opens and a guarantee that extra funds were required that those would be freelly available on request.
        The fault was discovered as part of scheduled routine mantenance, before the fault became critical, which is what scheduled routine maintenance is for.
        That cannot prevent elements from breaking, just as servicing your car cannot prevent things from breaking.
        This bridge is after all operating to a 1950s design for 1950s traffic.
        It is now operating at double its designed load bearing capacity.
        That is why elements are now breaking, inspections simply tell you that they have indeed broken.

      2. No it didn’t. There is not a shred of evidence to support that accusation, and a whean of it to disprove it. It’s just another example of the SNPbad mood setters that Labour activists are hoping will turn their fortunes around in Scotland. They cannot come up with any credible Labour-good stuff so the whole campaign is built around SNPbad-vote-for-us drivel. I doubt it will do anything but hurt Labour.

        1. Actually Mr pony theres overwhelming evidence. Perhaps you should read a newspaper occasionally, instead of some lone gunman conspiracy blog like Wings.

          1. Lies Jim. Pure and simple.

            As for “reading newspapers”; aye right. Their reputation has been irreversibly ruined by their hopelessly partisan reporting of SNPbad drivel, handed to them by the unionist parties full in the knowledge they will dutifully report it as “fact”.

            Do you really believe anyone now considers them “reliable sources of factual information” regarding anything to do with the SNP? Even unionists acknowledge that they are not, and some even laud it as noble position to take.

  3. Possibly the biggest load of drivel I’ve ever read. Another crossing isn’t just essential to relieve the physical strain on the existing bridge, but to relieve the traffic bottleneck and help prevent, or at least reduce the potential for, the sort of chaos generated by the closure of the existing bridge.
    Having spent a considerable part of my working life crossing the damned thing twice a day, I’ve been stuck in more traffic jams caused by a single vehicle breaking down on the bridge than you’ve had hot dinners…
    Of course, if a previous LABOUR administration hadn’t cancelled a second road bridge at their earliest opportunity…
    As for the financial aspects, the ‘Bank Manager’ can’t spend what he’s not been given.
    Are we receiving any additional funding for what is surely a ‘National Infrastructure’ project?
    Are we being expected to contribute to other ‘National Infrastructure’ projects with zero discernable benefit to the people of Scotland?
    Oh, and out of curiosity, just what *is* your engineering degree in?

    1. My degree is in Mechanical Engineering. The writer’s technical “facts” are baseless. Where he go his “factors of safety” from beats me.

      1. Oh dear. Mechanical engineering being the study of heating and air conditioning. Not exactly a qualified individual. Factors of safety are imbedded in structural design codes of practice. You appear to have no clue as to what you are talking about. Though if my washing machine breaks down, youll be the first guy I call.

        1. Which is why we’re enquiring as to the engineering qualifications of the AUTHOR of the article…

  4. Here’s a suggestion.

    When you find out you were wrong about something, admit it, own up, apologise. Don’t stretch credulity to try and defend being wrong about something just so you can defend “SNP Baaaaaaad”.

  5. Still loving your work, Bruce, even though, to the day, this is 3 months premature.

    Being a stickler for, albeit, minor detail and preferring analysis to assertion you seem to have forgotten to factor in to your sums the cost of cancelling contractual obligations, at this stage of the new bridge’s construction, to the companies concerned.

    And, not least, what do you envisage maintaining the half-built bridge for 70 years would be until it’s needed?

    Anyway, couldn’t resist rising to the bait.

    Struggling to comprehend whether it’s the “journalism” or the degree that diminishes your cred. 😀

  6. “Austerity” actually means “A boo-word used by hardcore deficit-deniers to describe a policy of moderating the continuing overall expansion in state spending year on year so as eventually to bring total public expenditure back below total tax revenues”.

    Let’s hope you’re better at engineering than you are at basic economics. Otherwise I’d sooner not cross any bridges designed by you, thank you very much.

    1. Woooooo So you can define “Austerity” in your own definitional terms. How wonderful. Let’s talk about Growth. Lets talk about fundamental infrastructure improvements. Developments which increase the probability of Scotland rejuvenating itself in line with 21st Century standards.
      The failure of Austerity is the lack of investment in jobs . The failure to increase wages in line with inflation and thus increase total tax revenues. We have currently fallen into stagnation. There is NOTHING more damaging to a Nation’s economy than the low wage non-investment strategy being implemented by a one track mind Chancellor of the UK Exchequer.

  7. This err.. Engineering Degree of the author’s..
    Is it printed on softer, more absorbent paper?

  8. Labour activist draws gun -> cocks it -> points at own foot -> pulls trigger.

    With this article following one by another activist bizarrely claiming the 2015 election was a positive experience for Labour, one has to ask if they are having a laugh or just so deep in denial that reality is completely beyond their comprehension?

  9. Bruce thanks for the giving me my first real belly aching laugh of 2016 I nearly fell of my seat in fits of laughter reading your article, I shall be kind and put it down to New Years Eve and the likelyhood that you may have partook of some Grog to celebrate and see in the New Year. On a serious note it is because of crazy ideas like yours that the Scottish Labour section are facing wipeout at the next Scottish Elections and there is no way back for the reason that any of the Scottiish Labour section wavering voters after reading your article will probably now vote for the SNP you have scored an own goal.

  10. Jeez I better go and check my calendar could have sworn today was the first of January

  11. Wow, Bruce surely will go far. Curb infrastructure spending in Scotland–who would have thought of that?
    Well, successive Westminster Governments for a start.
    There ARE huge infrastructure spends that Scotland’s taxes go towards, but they tend NOT to be in Scotland.
    England’s motorway system in the 60’s that stopped short of the border for decades.
    The Trident refitting dock that was flitted from Rosyth to Devonport by Malkie Rifkind.
    Crossrail 1—£32billion.
    Crossrail 2—£27billion in 2014 money.Etc, etc……………………..
    There are any number of expensive schemes, way down south, where Scots wouldnt notice any consequences, if our contribution was retained in Scotland for much more relevant spending priorities..

    But no, Bruce is only interested in stopping a Scottish infrastructure spend, one where we had to scrimp and save to be able to fund it. Not like the other schemes funded as NATIONAL infrastructure spends…… Pool and Share—-hahahaha, right ! A con trick !
    That is an odd way to try to regain support in Scotland.

    1. Authornis merely highlighting that government is a matter of choices. The nationalists like to hold up a handful of shiny baubles to show how great they are. Naturally, it is the oppositions job to demonstrate that, wpwhere budgets are limited, the government of the day has made choices to pay for such baubles by cutting elsewhere.

      And hey, if the nats want to rub the tummies of the cruicial middle class vote, fair play.
      But dont wee on my boots and tell me its raining.

      Such choices does not a left wing progressive government make.
      He nats will get away with saying one thing whilst doing another only for so long.

      1. “Left wing progressive government”.—-would this be the government that raised old age pensions by 87p?
        Or the one that cut the 10p tax rate, while also cutting basic tax rates by 2p?
        Or the same government that cut corporation tax repeatedly?
        Or the people who flew round the world to prostrate themselves at Murdoch’s feet? Who gave pajama parties for his wife? Who was godparent to his kid? Who wined and dined at Rupert’s garden soirees?
        Who sucked up to billionaires who wanted into the country?
        Who couldn’t do enough for non doms?
        Who wanted “British jobs for British workers”.
        I could go on, but you obviously joined this party ( I had already left by then) while all this stuff was current, so gave approval by staying.
        Left wing—don’t think so!

        1. Gosh, i hope it wasnt the SNPs john swinney who, when asked last may to name just one truly progressive SNP policy in the last 8!years found himslef at a total loss. That would be pretty embarassing for you.

  12. Yeah sure, contimue to put more strain on the FRB, and sit back and wait for the impending disaster! Get your head out the sand, and think why the new bridge HAS to be built!

  13. If it’s money-saving ideas you want, how about binning Trident and its replacement, or HS2, which Scotland won’t see, but will pay for.

    Or even better, bearing in mind the legacy of long-term payments as a result of PFI schemes resting on the shoulders of councils across Scotland, don’t let the Labour Party anywhere near government.

  14. Is the writer suggesting using money from the capital budget for use on revenue expenditure? Not sure that is wise.

  15. I live in Portland, Oregon, a city about the size of Edinburgh which has TWELVE bridges over the Willamette River but two is too many of Edinburgh? The mind boggles. Of course, a second bridge is needed and stopping in the middle of the construction would be ludicrous. This is party politics of the most petty kind.

    1. there are a number of bridges across the forth. The new crossing is less than a mile from the existing one. Stopping now would of course be ludicrous. But suggesting as much to frame a political discussion, thats politics of the most normal kind. Sadly normal political discussion isnt tolerated by a significant minority of nationalists.

  16. How many construction job losses are Scottish Labour calling for here? I think we should be told.

    1. No doubt less than the number of council jobs about to be lost following the SNPs echoing of osbornes budget.

  17. This is the first time I’ve ever posted here, I just wanted to add that this idea is perhaps the most ridiculous I’ve ever read.

    That is all.

  18. This has made my day. I’m framing it.

    Soon we’ll be rid of this retrograde shower of reality deniers for good. The more they say, the less their credulity. And the sooner Scotland will have an opposition who are competent to oppose.

  19. Wow, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

    Is this a stunt by a freelance writer to get noticed and attract some work? If so, then it certainly got attention but I’m not sure that the writer will be taken very seriously.

    Enough said.

  20. Ian Bell graciously took the time to respond to your article with more respect than it deserves. I can add nothing more. You are an idiot of the highest degree. Keep it up!

    P.S. The constant invitation to support Labour Hame interrupting the screen and obscuring my reading is hugely irritating. Just like the Labour party. Keep it up!

    P.P.S. You are an idiot

  21. First day of the new year & already we have a real contender for most ridiculous suggestion by a unionist 2016. The tears were already rolling down my cheeks, when a pop up appeared, asking if i wanted to subscribe to the Labour hame mailing list, that was it, i actually had to go & change my underwear, this will take some beating, hope STV pick this up & run with it, i for one will be sending them a link, the whole country needs to see how dangerously incompetent Labour are..

  22. This article needs to be printed in the Scotsman. Im sure he would get a fair amount of support for his plan there.

  23. Engineering degree from an internet spam mail more like, this clown could not engineer a piss up in a brewery, looks like Kezia might have some competition for the clown suit after all.

  24. This would rank with scrapping Nimrod IV after billions had already been spent on it.

  25. OMG ! What next ? Methinks this eejit has a degree in Lego. Happy April Fools day folks.

  26. Well, As a structural engineer of 30 years + experience, I can truly say that the level of knowledge and experience shown here is about the same as the ‘Looney tunes’….not slightly mad, but complete barking, howling at the moon stuff.

    As ome have mentioned above,

    The remaining cost is also not a billion….probably not more than 400-500 million max. It is at least half built for the deck and infrastructure, and that is conservative since the remaining sections of the deck is partially fabricated and in position. The north approach deck had the temporary jacking supports erected very recently, I saw it when I crossed yesterday.

    So, sorry , but this is a level of idiocy worthy of nothing beyond laughter.

    Mothballing it would cost a fortune in its current condition.

    You know that delays in construction cost huge amounts of money?…mothballing is the mother of all delays.

    …and that assumes you can just shut off the contract without any consequence, which is bridge deck shaped pie in the sky.

    I am pretty sure you cannot hand almost two billion pound contracts back like a xmas sweater that doesn’t fit.

    Whether you think the bridge was needed or not is irrelevant and whether you have a political viewpoint one way or the other, this idea is pure lunacy…and I suspect you know that. Is this whole article just an echo chamber attempt?

    The original plan had the forth bridge destined to be closed to HGV’s permanently after the new bridge opens. The problem for everyone involved in Scottish Labour is that certain things regarding the new bridge and the old bridge seems to show that no matter what you actually think about the SNP, When it comes to infrastructure, They called the Edinburgh trams right, they called the forth bridge right and the public see them doing a good job in this area. Find a proper way to scrutinise them, rather than bathtubbing the issues and hit them where they are vulnerable….It would have to be on social justice and somewhere where cuts are not the reason, because they have a Willy Wonka golden “get out of jail free” ticket. The size of cuts is not their choice, just how they are spread about.

    SO, find an issue they have not had good results in, and are not subject to cuts, don’t have the best record in the UK for and have not achieved what they have claimed they would do…..then propose a costed solution or improvement….and while you are at it, if they are forced to shift position , You will have shown you are an effective opposition and you will start to return to some credibility. Right now, the only people doing this are the Lib dems, but do it at minuscule domestic level. The Tories cannot do this as it is ‘top down’ UK tory cuts. This SNP government are good, but it is Scottish Labour which make them look so untouchable.

    Up your game and keep it honest, bring real issues to the fore rather than dying even more credibility deaths.

    1. Im a rocket scientist with 100 years experience.

      Typing it doesnt make it true.

      And the statement would add little weight to my comments if they then meandered into a rather non technical polemic.

  27. This just kind of exemplifies how far detached from reality north British labour are. Neanderthal thinking has become the benchmark for the labour minded, perhaps why there are so few of them left, the last hiding place of the bigots and britnat extremists unable to evolve and learn from their disastrous last few years. It really warms Scots hearts to see you flailing in the dirt you made for yourselves.

  28. This opinion piece is doesn’t make a lot of sense, it really highlights the level of barrel scraping Scottish Labour have fallen to, oiling up a massive project near completion, letting it rust for 70 years, in the hope that the crumbling old bridge has no issues in that period, seems beyond madness. Mothballing and delays are the most costly issues facing these projects and are to be avoided, just look at the TRAMS construction fiasco.

    Labour are in serious trouble in Scotland, as the UK leadership are too left for middle/right support in Scotland, but Scottish Labour represent the remnants of New Labour up here, so either way you flip the Labour coin you can’t win, there’s just no base to draw support from, this has led to negative campaigning that has no substance and can’t pin down the SNP on anything. As Labour are a jumble sale of factions and sound bites, get a grip, purge the neocon war monkeys and austerity abstainers, start using your heads, good opposition breeds good politics.

    TL;DR If it is a lego like doddle to finish the new FRB, just get it done.

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