Sadiq Khan and a Conservative critic on the London Assembly clashed publicly today over responsibility for fixing the stricken Hammersmith Bridge in the latest round of political recriminations over the issue.
Tory AM Tony Arbour, who represents the Assembly’s South West constituency, which includes the southern side of the bridge in Richmond, accused Khan during his monthly Mayor’s Question Time session of a failure of leadership and of “fiddling while Barnes burns”.
In response, the Mayor urged him to get on the phone to his fellow Conservatives in national government and tell them to “get your finger out and help the businesses and people in south west London” by providing the necessary funds.
Hammersmith Bridge, which has a history of closures and remedial work, was shut to motorised traffic in April 2019 and then to pedestrians and cyclists in August of this year after hot weather widened the existing structural flaws.
The bridge is owned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which cannot afford the estimated £140 million to restore the bridge to full use. Transport for London spent £25 million on preliminary measures, but has since had to negotiate an emergency financial bailout from the government after its main revenue stream all but dried up as passengers avoided public transport due to Covid-19.
Today, Arbour reminded Khan that at the time of the initial closure he had called on him to approach the problem as a case of force majeure – an event beyond the control of the usual authorities – and, as Mayor, to take command of the situation to ensure it was addressed. “You have repeated today that “it’s not your fault, that it’s not me guv, it’s not my responsibility,” Arbour said, participating remotely in the exchange. He contended that either of Khan’s predecessors as Mayor would have shown more determination.
However, Khan, who was in City Hall along with nine AMs, the maximum number allowed under Covid rules, said he has been frustrated in his efforts to muster government help, claiming it had taken ministers months to even agree to a meeting and that attempts to secure repair funding from existing funding pots had been rebuffed or ignored.
He indirectly mocked another Tory AM, Shaun Bailey, who is his party’s candidate for the delayed London Mayor election, by accusing Tory ministers of being happy to make “promises for fixing this bridge when it comes to supporting a candidate who can’t win,” but less good at providing the money needed. “What the residents don’t want is cheap photo ops and people misleading the public locally and telling lies,” Khan said.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps, who said last December that he would provide funds for a temporary bridge but has yet to do so, has now set up a “task force” to address the problem, but is yet to commit any cash. Khan says TfL’s plan for fully-restoring the bridge is “shovel-ready”, but Arbour asked him, “Will he man up and actually do something to help the people on either side of this bridge.” Khan retorted that “It’s not a question of manning up, it’s a question of the government stepping up and providing the funding so desperately needed.”
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