OnLondon

Hammersmith Bridge: Shapps, Bailey and bullshit – a handy timeline

Screenshot 2020 11 16 at 14.11.25

Screenshot 2020 11 16 at 14.11.25

Judging by opinion polls, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, will, at best, finish a distant second to Sadiq Khan at next year’s postponed election. One issue Bailey hopes will help gain him a bit of ground, at least in some parts of west London, is the forlorn condition of Hammersmith Bridge, which links Barnes (in the borough of Richmond upon Thames) on the south side of the Thames with Hammersmith (in Hammersmith & Fulham) on the north side.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s beautiful, Grade II-listed creation, opened in 1887, has been closed to motor vehicles since 10 April 2019 and to pedestrians and cyclists too since 13 August 2020. The closure, caused by fractures in the bridge that have worsened over several years, has caused huge inconvenience to a lot of people: Hammersmith & Fulham says over 20,000 vehicles and around 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists used to cross the ailing suspension bridge each day.

The burning and increasingly party political question has been about how and when the problem can be solved and, in particular, who will pay for it. Hammersmith & Fulham, which is the owner of the bridge, claims credit for detecting the seriousness of the problem by commissioning a “comprehensive structural integrity review” in 2014 – the year Labour, which has run the council ever since, regained control of it from the Conservatives.

Engineers, including some brought in by Transport for London, which is responsible for the bridge’s road, calculated it would cost £46 million to stabilise the bridge and up to £141 million to fully restore it for use by motor vehicles within three years. The council insists that no local authority has that kind of cash to hand, and in August of this year joined with Liberal Democrat-run Richmond to make a joint approach to the government for help.

Early the following month, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that he was setting up a government “task force” to address the problem. He then went on LBC radio to sigh heavily and complain that he was “fed up with waiting” for Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan and Hammersmith & Fulham to do anything. However:

Whatever, the “temporary structure” pledge now looks like the onset of a trend:

There is a respectable argument to be made that Mayor Khan could have been more prominent and forceful about trying to find a solution to the Hammersmith Bridge problem: Tony Arbour, the Conservative AM who represents Richmond, Hounslow and Kingston has done just that. But if Khan could have done more, perhaps the same charge could be made against his predecessor, Boris Johnson, and others before that.

After all, the bridge has been closed on a number of occasions in the past – in 1973, 1984, 1997, 2000 (following a bomb attack) and in 2014, when Johnson was Mayor. Further strengthening work was delayed in late 2016 (by which time Khan was Mayor) amid a dispute between Hammersmith & Fulham and TfL over who should pay for a £5.3 million shortfall.

All told, a long and rather sorry tale. With election foolishness intensifying and another TfL settlement to be reached before the 6 May vote takes place it might not become any more impressive any time soon.

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