Plea Made for Military Assistance Over Hammersmith Bridge

Richmond Council and MP write to army asking them to deploy temporary structure

Picture: Andrew Wilson

Political figures in Richmond have resorted to writing a letter to the British Army to seek help for a temporary river crossing while Hammersmith Bridge remains closed.

However, the Ministry of Defence says they do not think they are the best people to help out.

Local MP, Sarah Olney, alongside the council’s transport committee chair, Alexander Ehmann, today (August 26) wrote a joint letter to the Army and Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, asking for military assistance in evaluating and potentially deploying an emergency temporary bridge linking Barnes and Hammersmith.

In their letter they ask the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), if their expertise in installing bridges overseas could be used to identifying a short-term remedy to the impact of the Hammersmith Bridge closure as schools prepare to go back in the coming weeks.

The letter states: “We appreciate this is a highly unusual approach, but the situation we face in our part of South West London is bleak. As a council and MP, we cannot in good conscience leave any stone unturned in trying to find a remedy to the immediate impacts of the bridge’s closure.”

However an MOD spokesperson said: “The UK Armed Forces are always willing to provide support to civil authorities where we are able to add value.

“In this instance, having taken account of available capabilities, we have suggested that the task may be more suited to a civil agency or private company.”

Earlier this month Hammersmith and Fulham Council – which owns the bridge – announced that it would be closed to all members of the public, including pedestrians and cyclists, due to growing safety concerns.

Both Richmond and Hammersmith and Fulham councils have called on the government to urgently commit to funding for the restoration project and temporary bridge, after outline commitments were made prior to the pandemic.

Councillor Ehmann, said the situation is “now critical”.

He added: “Without urgent funding, the government is effectively blocking part of West London off from the capital. Last week we saw hundreds of people protest at the bridge, urging the government to put their hands in their pockets. The government must listen.

“Whilst responsibility for the bridge does not lie with Richmond Council, we will explore every avenue that could offer some assistance to residents.

“We have already said we will waive our fees for the planning process for a temporary bridge and are working with Hammersmith and Fulham Council to see whether ferry services might provide a short-term solution.

“We are doing absolutely everything we can. Which is more than can be said for the Department for Transport. That’s why we’ve taken the highly unusual step of asking for emergency support from the army. We need someone to step up.”

Last week a spokesperson for the Department for Transport said the government “recognise[s] Hammersmith Bridge’s importance and understand the concern around the additional congestion caused by its closure. We’re currently considering TfL’s bid for funding and will respond in due course.”

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter

August 26, 2020