Bitter row rumbles on as to who is to pay for the repairs
The prospect of Hammersmith Bridge reopening seems even more distant this week with no resolution in sight to the dispute over who is paying for the repairs.
At an angry meeting of Hammersmith & Fulham Council this Wednesday (15 May) Labour and Tory councillors clashed over the state of the 132-year-old Victorian crossing and the Council admitted it had no idea when the bridge would reopen.
The packed Town Hall heard that huge cracks were found in the Grade II-listed bridge’s cast iron structure. It closed to all vehicle traffic on April 10 because of structural defects.
Tory leader, Councillor Andrew Brown, said there had been a “complete failure” from the Council and City Hall on how to repair the bridge.
“Over a month since it was closed to vehicles they have still not come to an agreement over the short or long term,” Mr Brown said. “All the while our air pollution continues to deteriorate and our residents are inconvenienced.”
Council leader, Stephen Cowan, then accused the Tories of “cheap sniping”. He hit back, saying his side inherited the faulty bridge from the Tories in 2014 when it already had long-standing problems.
“We inherited no plan from that side,” Mr Cowan said. “The real issue is, we started weekly checks on this cast iron 1887-built bridge… when we did that we found cracks in the cast iron. Brittle cast iron shatters under strain.”
Angry exchanges at Hammersmith & Fulham Council meeting. Picture: Owen Sheppard
Conservative councillors in the chamber tried to shout out over him: “What’s the time frame? When will you fix it?”
Mr Cowan added: “I will make two promises now. We will fully refurbish the bridge. We will open the bridge and restore it to its full Victorian splendour.” But he was unable to suggest a time that the bridge could be fixed.
A council spokesperson said after the meeting it doesn’t yet know how the problems with the bridge will be fixed and therefore could not estimate a date for its reopening.
On 2 May the council said it had “begun the first phase of the work to restore the bridge”. Although no detail has been given about work that has been done so far.
Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, previously said the government should “underwrite” the bill, because of austerity imposed on TfL and the Council.
Earlier in the week West London Assembly Members pressed the Mayor on the closure of Hammersmith Bridge at Mayor’s Question Time.
Tony Devenish AM, who represents Hammersmith, pressed the Mayor on when the bridge will be re-opened, and the Mayor said that this would be announced over the summer. Tony Arbour, the Assembly Member for Richmond, urged the Mayor to treat the closure of the bridge as an emergency and dip into the TfL reserves.
Mr Devenish said, “TfL are right to put temporary measures in place to alleviate the terrible congestion caused by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, but West London deserves better. With the bridge now closed for over a month, residents - especially the elderly, disabled and those with young children - are crying out for Hammersmith and Fulham Council and TfL to get around the table to hammer out a solution. A ‘sticking plaster’ is simply not acceptable.
“London Mayor Sadiq Khan has assured me in the past that repair work would take place in 2019, yet TfL’s consultation on these bus changes doesn’t even close until October. Londoners are overdue a straight answer to a straight question: when will Hammersmith Bridge re-open?”
The Barnes Community Association had been reporting on their web site that TfL had told them that the bridge would be closed for two to three years. When we asked them for clarification they updated their web site to say that they had been told that the bridge would be closed indefinitely.
The sudden closure of the bridge sparked a row over who should foot the £40 million repair bill, with TfL pointing the finger at the Government because of cuts to its budget, and Conservatives laying the blame with Sadiq Khan.
Steven Greenhalgh, former Conservative leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who is standing to be Mayor of the borough, is suggesting that a 50p toll could be introduced to pay for the repair and upkeep of the bridge. When the bridge first opened in the nineteenth century it was subject to a toll.
This site has made a number of requests to TfL for updates on the issue of Hammersmith Bridge but has not received a response.
Written with contributions for Owen Sheppard – Local Democracy Reporter
May 17, 2019