Residents in west and south-west London will be waiting another six-and-a-half years before the stricken Hammersmith Bridge is fully open to vehicle traffic, according to transport minister Baroness Vere, head of the government task force overseeing repair of the bridge.
It also remains uncertain who will pay an estimated £141 million bill for the works, with Whitehall wrangling with Hammersmith & Fulham Council over a council contribution and simultaneously locked in last-minute negotiations on bailout cash for Transport for London, which could determine how much the city-wide body would be able to contribute.
That was the sombre message to more than 600 Hammersmith and Richmond residents tuning in last night to an online session of the task force, established by transport secretary Grant Shapps with the promise to “bash heads together” and get “decisive and quick” action underway for commuters, residents and business.
The listed Victorian crossing was closed to motor traffic last year because of structural concerns, and shut off to all users including pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic in August this year amid warnings of possible collapse.
But government money for the repair work will not be forthcoming unless the council, which is the legal owner of the bridge, also comes up with cash, Baroness Vere told the meeting.
Conservative London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey has previously said that Shapps had agreed that the Department for Transport would fund the project, saying that residents were “happy…your department has provided the money, to pay for, repair the bridge in the long run…”
The government does have a role, Baroness Vere said. “We will provide financial support, but that is money from taxpayers all across the country and it has to be fair to them. It won’t be done without a local contribution. The government is standing ready to fund the project – no if’s, no but’s -alongside local contributions. We need to see some movement from Hammersmith & Fulham.”
Underlining the stand-off, deputy council leader Sue Fennimore, reading a statement from leader Stephen Cowan, said the bridge is a strategic not a local asset, and that repair costs were beyond the level individual boroughs could afford.
“It would be wrong of us to make our residents pay,” she said. “Hammersmith & Fulham will not end its commitment to adult social care, free school meals, street enforcement or affordable housing to pay for the bridge. Repairs should be funded by the capital’s transport authority and central government.”
Sadiq Khan’s transport deputy, Heidi Alexander, said TfL does share responsibility, reminding the meeting that the authority has already spent £16 million on survey and design work for the repairs and submitted three bids for funding, including one in response the government’s June call for “shovel ready” projects, but is currently “hamstrung” because of its own funding shortfall.
Delays in the overall funding settlement for TfL would also hold up the setting up of a temporary ferry service TfL has agreed to run, she added, calling for the government to “frontload” its funding to enable work to start.
Frontloading would be considered, Baroness Vere said, but agreements had to be in place for the whole project to be completed. “Over to Hammersmith & Fulham,” she added, offering the council the help of Whitehall officials in looking at its options for funding.
An updated “frequently asked questions” document published yesterday by the Department for Transport confirmed that discussion on who would pay for the repairs was “ongoing” and that the taskforce “wishes to see a resolutuon to this as quickly as possible to ensure that Londoners can quickly and safely cross and use the river”.
A timeline presented to the meeting by task force project manager and former TfL manager Dana Skelley suggested that a temporary ferry service run by TfL could be in operation by next spring, while successful emergency work could see limited walking and cycling access allowed before full restoration and opening.
Cost benefit analysis strongly supported repairing the bridge rather than replacing it, as some had suggested, Skelley said, adding that constructing a temporary bridge for vehicles did not appear feasible.
The full taskforce session can be seen here.
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