Sadiq Khan and Transport for London have been frustrated in attempts to secure government financial help with repairing Hammersmith Bridge despite the need for it being impressed on ministers for months, according to correspondence and documentation seen by On London.
In an unpublished letter dated 14 February 2020, deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander informed transport minister Baroness Vere that “without government support we will very quickly reach the point where works on the bridge will have to stop” and explained that “a procurement plan” that had already been drawn up could not be pursued with potential contractors “without an agreed funding route”.
Alexander’s letter details separate attempts that had already been made to access existing government funding pots, one for £50 million submitted in December last year and the other for £115 million begun in early February, a sum which would have covered the gap between the £25 million already spend on the repair effort by TfL and its then estimated final cost of £140 million.
Subsequently, in June 2020, the Mayor included Hammersmith Bridge in a list of so-called “shovel-ready” projects supplied to communities secretary Robert Jenrick in conjunction with the capital’s local enterprise partnership after Jenrick had invited pitches for a share of a national £900 million for local infrastructure projects. Jenrick replied on 1 July, saying £22.1 million would be awarded to London in all, but none was allocated for the bridge. A bid document shows that £38 million for Hammersmith Bridge was applied for. This is understood to have been the sum needed to cover immediate stabilisation works.
These attempts to obtain government funds, including from the Department for Transport, appears at odds with a claim made by transport secretary Grant Shapps on LBC this morning (pictured) that he has been “waiting for Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Mayor of London to get this fixed” and that he has “got fed up waiting, frankly”.
Yesterday, Shapps said there has been “a failure of leadership in London” over addressing the problems with Hammersmith Bridge, which was closed to motorised traffic in April 2019 and then to pedestrians and cyclists in August due to the hot weather worsening existing structural flaws. Visiting the bridge to talk to the media, Shapps was joined by Conservative London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey, who took credit for the secretary of state’s intervention, writing on Twitter that he had “urged the government to fix Hammersmith Bridge because Sadiq Khan wasn’t going to”.
Alexander’s letter to Baroness Vere says the bid for £50 million for “congestion relief”, the maximum amount permitted, was submitted in December 2019, after DfT officials had advised her that “London was not eligible” to seek a share from a different fund, known as Local Large Majors (LLM), for which larger bids are allowed. Alexander’s letter goes on to say that on 4 February she was advised by DfT officials that London could, in fact, be eligible for the LLM fund, only for this new advice “to be again reversed on 7 February”, after work on an LLM bid had begun.
Alexander also mentions two previous letters she had written to the Baroness about the bridge, one dated 11 October 2019 and the other 9 January 2020. She welcomed the Baroness agreeing in the House of Lords on 6 January this year that Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which owns the bridge, “might not have the financial resources” to pay for the repairs “on its own”, adding that she expected TfL to “take a role in driving the project forward” and pledging to “consider” any forthcoming funding request.
In December 2019, a few days before the general election, Shapps appeared in a video beside the stricken bridge with his fellow Conservative Zac Goldsmith, the then MP for Richmond Park. Goldsmith claimed that he had secured government support “including the necessary funds” for a temporary bridge to be built next to the stricken one. Shapps said that he would “put some money in”. However, plans for a temporary bridge have since been put on hold.
Shapps told LBC today he has become “increasingly frustrated” with the Hammersmith Bridge situation, but declined to say if the government would help meet the cost of addressing it.
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