A DEFUNCT public body consisting of ten councillors has effectively been blamed for the Forth Road Bridge crisis.

The Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA) ceased to exist on June 1, when private contractor Amey took over the operations of the road bridge as part of its contract to run the new Queensferry Crossing.

Previously FETA, which itself replaced the Forth Bridge Joint Board, had full responsibility for the bridge, although after tolls were scrapped in February 2008 its funding came entirely from the Scottish Government via Transport Scotland.

FETA had four councillors from Edinburgh, four from Fife and one each from West Lothian and Perth and Kinross Councils.

Asked about FETA’s decisions to delay repair projects in the last five years, a statement was given to The National by Transport Scotland. It stated: “The Scottish Government has fully funded all FETA programmes since taking over the funding of the annual grant in 2008.

“Prior to the dissolution of FETA earlier this year, FETA made decisions on their programme and priorities of repairs completely independently of Transport Scotland.”

One of those decisions was taken in February 2009, when the bridge’s vital expansion or movement joints came up for renewal. Contractor Amey says these joints have nothing to with the current fault, although leading engineer John Carson disputes this.

“Expansion joints allow the bridge to cope with additional stresses,” said Carson, “and clearly the new fault is all about a structural failure to cope with those stresses.”

In 2009 a report by FETA’s staff said: “The advice given previously to members was that the joints had reached the end of their service life and required to be replaced as there were concerns over their reliability.”

Shortly before the discussion, however, the timetable for the Forth Replacement Crossing was published by the Scottish Government.

As a result FETA ordered a review of its projects, and the report stated that the “review team concluded that it would be possible to delay the replacement of the joints until 2016”. The report added that “inspection and monitoring levels would have to be increased significantly, key components such as pins and springs would have to be replaced and in some cases modified to improve performance”. The report concluded that the delay would result in “a saving to the public purse of over £6 million”.

Carson said: “Transport Scotland as the funders of FETA wanted cash savings, and this issue of the expansion joints shows they were prepared to gamble with the safety of the bridge.

“Other projects were delayed, several of them in what was a gamble, and now we are all paying the price for that lost gamble.”

Transport Minister Derek Mackay to make emergency statement on Forth Road Bridge today