A London MP has sought confirmation from transport secretary Grant Shapps that government funding for the repair of Hammersmith Bridge is being provided, after the Conservative London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey said that was the case during a webcast interview with Shapps during the Tory party conference yesterday.
In a letter, Labour’s Andy Slaughter, whose Hammersmith constituents are among those affected by the closure of the bridge, has asked Shapps to assure him that the Department for Transport “is meeting the full costs of the repair work to Hammersmith Bridge” as Bailey stated.
Bailey said: “I have spoken to a number of residents and they’re very happy that you’ve provided the money, that your department has provided the money, to pay for, repair the bridge in the long run so it is back to motorised traffic.” Shapps did not challenge or qualify Bailey’s words during the section of the interview the Tory mayoral hopeful posted on Twitter.
Slaughter’s letter also points out that Bailey made a similar claim in an article for Conservative Home published on 23 September, in which he wrote that he and Chelsea & Fulham MP Greg Hands had “asked the government to intervene and take over Hammersmith Bridge” and that Shapps had subsequently “bailed out Sadiq Khan by taking over the bridge and funding the repairs”.
There has been no official announcement that repair of the bridge will be funded by the government, which appointed a “task force” early last month to address the problem. The bridge was closed to motorised traffic in April 2019, and to pedestrians and cyclist as well in August after hot weather weakened it further.
The task force, which is chaired by transport minister Baroness Vere, released a joint statement with the DfT following its third meeting on 1 October, which said it had been agreed that a ferry service would be provided as a short-term solution and that a “temporary bridge” remains under consideration. However, there was no mention of government funding of any kind.
The task force also includes representatives of Transport for London, the Greater London Authority, the Port of London Authority, Richmond Council and Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which is the owner of the bridge but lacks sufficient funds to pay for the repairs. Transport for London, which is responsible for the road that crosses the bridge, has spent £25 million on measures to make the bridge safe. Former TfL engineer Dana Skelley has been appointed project director.
During their Tory conference interview, Shapps repeated to Bailey claims he had previously made to LBC’s Nick Ferrari, that he had wearied of the London Mayor and Hammersmith & Fulham failing to get to grips with fixing the bridge. However, On London has reported that attempts by TfL and and City Hall to secure government financial help, beginning in December, have met with no success.
Two days before the 12 December general election the then MP for Richmond Park, Conservative Zac Goldsmith, claimed to have secured government support “including the necessary funds” for a temporary bridge. Goldsmith posted this claim on Twitter with a video of himself and Shapps, in which Shapps blamed “the wrangling between the Mayor and the local authority” and said that a Conservative government would “put some money in”.
The Grade II-listed bridge, designed by Sir Jospeh Bazalgette, was refurbished in 1973 and had further work done on it in 1984. It was closed to cars and vans in 1997 for essential maintenance and closed again for repairs in 2014, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was London Mayor. Further strengthening work was delayed in November 2016 amid disagreements between Hammersmith & Fulham and TfL.
Yesterday, broadcaster Iain Dale, revealed on Twitter that he had been asked “a few weeks ago” by the Conservatives to interview Shapps at the online conference and agreed too “but I would do it my way” and didn’t hear back.
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