IT WAS the "right decision" to postpone repair work on the Forth Road Bridge until the new Queensferry Crossing opens next year.

That's according to Dunfermline Lib Dem councillor Tony Martin, the last convener of the authority that was in charge of maintaining the 51-year-old structure.

That decision has now backfired spectacularly but he insisted that if the expert advice in 2010 had been that the work could not wait, the project would have gone ahead and the underfire Scottish Government would have paid for it.

Cllr Martin said: "Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If we had decided to do this work, the same people that are complaining about the congestion now would be saying: 'Why are you doing all this work and causing all these delays when a new bridge will open soon?'

"Of course it's an overstressed bridge and because of that it's likely that things could go wrong but the decisions were not taken lightly.

"If we had needed to do the work there and then they would have told us to do it. And we'd have got the money for it."

A 20mm crack in the steelwork – "a failure to the truss end link" which could have seen the deck drop by up to 30cm - resulted in the bridge being closed on December 4, causing motorists to detour by Kincardine or switch to crowded trains to cross the Forth.

A Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA) report shows they knew that the truss end linkages were "significantly overstressed" but strengthening work was put off in 2010 until 2016, when the new bridge is scheduled to open.

Cllr Martin, who was convener of Feta until it was dissolved earlier this year, said: "The capital programme was rescoped because the new bridge was being built and we tried to put off some of the work that would seriously inconvenience motorists.

"The inspection and report we had done at that time said we could put this off until 2016.

"With the knowledge we had, it was right to put it off until the new bridge was open."

Transport Minister Derek Mackay said the strengthening work that was postponed was to a different part of the truss end linkages to that which failed on December 1 but later admitted that, if the project had proceeded, it would have "seen the replacement of that area and much more".

Cllr Martin said: "It's a political game where people are trying to score points.

"I'm not an SNP supporter but it was the right decision to build the new bridge and the right decision to rescope the work because of the huge inconvenience it would have caused.

"I don't think a different government would have made a different decision.

"If told they could put it off until 2016, Labour and the Lib Dems would certainly have done so too.

"I think this was unforeseeable."

Transport Scotland took over responsibility for the bridge this year and Amey now have the maintenance contract.

Until the tolls were scrapped in 2008, Feta had its own income of around £12million a year to spend on maintaining the bridge.

They were then reliant on Scottish Government funds and it has been argued that cutbacks meant vital repair work, such as for the truss end linkages, was put off as a result.

Cllr Martin said: "Once the tolls were scrapped by the SNP we had no income and were funded by Transport Scotland so of course when their budget was cut, our budget was cut.

"But if you look at the issue we had with the nuts and bolts (around 1000 heavy duty bolt assemblies had to be replaced in 2012 after cracks were found), when we found out we had to replace them all there was no question we wouldn't get the money.

"If a serious problem was identified, we would have got the money."

He continued: "If we had known this (truss end linkages) work needed to be done they would have had to close one side of the bridge and then the other side and I'm not sure how long the work would have taken.

"The major issue we were looking at then was the anchorages and we couldn't have done two major jobs on the bridge at the same time.

"The main cables were found to have corrosion so it was thought highly likely that the anchorages would be contaminated too.

"It was some time later before it was discovered that they were ok."

Cllr Martin said: "Was it reasonable for us to put off this work? I still think it was the right decision.

"People say FETA made that decision independently but we still spoke to Transport Scotland, they had copies of every paper and attended every board meeting, they would have known we didn't make it in isolation."