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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 17:05 GMT
Minister defiant on bridge issues
Forth Road Bridge
Tavish Scott insisted nobody else would take decisions about the link
Decisions on the future of the Forth Road Bridge will be a matter for Scottish ministers only, Transport Minister Tavish Scott has told MSPs.

The minister was challenged during a debate at Holyrood in which opposition MSPs sought to highlight conflicting views from Holyrood and Westminster.

After operators said they wanted to raise tolls, Chancellor Gordon Brown said the plans had been abandoned.

However, First Minister Jack McConnell insisted no decision had been taken.

The Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) wants to raise tolls from 1 for cars to a maximum charge of 4 for single occupancy vehicles at peak times.

Isn't it the case that we have a first minister saying a proposal is still on the table, yet Gordon Brown insists on the pretence that that proposal has been dropped?
Nicola Sturgeon
SNP's Holyrood leader

In a debate in the chamber, opposition MSPs said uncertainty over the level of tolls and whether there was going to be a second bridge was damaging the economy of Fife.

The idea for a second road bridge received support from Transport Secretary Alistair Darling when he campaigned in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election.

Scottish Socialist Party leader Colin Fox said a new bridge, which would accommodate both vehicles and light rail, should be looked into.

Green MSP Mark Ruskell raised concerns over the role of the bridge operators.

Mr Scott said a technical report on the state of the existing bridge would be on his desk next week.

It would be wrong to reach any ruling before it had been studied carefully, but any ruling would be made by Scottish ministers and "no-one else", he said.

The transport minister vowed that Holyrood ministers would not be bounced into decisions by Mr Brown or Mr Darling.

Annabel Goldie
Ms Goldie said a new bridge was needed

"The cabinet has agreed to consider the current set of proposals for the Forth road tolls increase in conjunction with the future for the Forth Road Bridge," Mr Scott added.

Mr Brown came under fire over the issue during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.

In heated exchanges with Mr McConnell, SNP Holyrood group leader Nicola Sturgeon said: "It seems Labour politicians leave any notion of truth behind when they cross the Forth bridge into Fife.

"Isn't it the case that we have a first minister saying a proposal is still on the table, yet Gordon Brown insists on the pretence that that proposal has been dropped?

"Isn't it the case that most people would describe that quite simply as a lie?"

'Due process'

Mr McConnell accused the SNP of "sheer hypocrisy" over tolls.

The row began with Ms Sturgeon challenging the first minister to explain why Mr Brown had "misled the public" by saying on Monday that any toll increases were dead in the water, days after Mr McConnell had said tolls were "very firmly on the agenda".

Mr McConnell insisted he had made the position consistently clear.

"We have a set of proposals from the local councils in that area that make up the transport authority for the bridge, we have to consider those proposals following a due process set out in the Transport Act," he said.

"The proposal for a 4 toll - the largest proposed increase - is one that hasn't received support in Fife or, I believe, anywhere else."

He added: "If the SNP are in negotiation with the Greens for government after 2007, does the SNP support the Green party who support all of their tolls in their entirety?"

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell crossed swords with opponents at FMQs

Ms Sturgeon said: "The position of the SNP is clear - we think 1 is enough.

"If Gordon Brown is telling the truth, the first minister should be able to stand up right now and rule out any increase in tolls," she told MSPs.

Tory leader Annabel Goldie argued that the blame for the 4 toll should start with the Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MSPs who voted for the 2001 Transport Act, explaining that this established Feta and the charging scheme.

"Is it not the very granting of these powers which has led directly to the proposal for a 4 toll?," she said.

Mr McConnell responded by saying the Tories were making it clear in their by-election campaigning that a new toll bridge should be built for the Forth.

Ms Goldie said the Conservatives believed a new bridge was needed and that tolling was a possibility.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch ministers being questioned about the toll increase



SEE ALSO:
'Build new Forth bridge' campaign
16 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Bridge board backs 4 toll plan
25 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Forth Road Bridge closure warning
17 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Capacity concern over road bridge
02 Sep 05 |  Scotland
New Forth crossing given go-ahead
15 Jun 05 |  Scotland


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