Since Hammersmith Bridge closed a few weeks ago, the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Labour H&F Council have been arguing over who stumps up the cash to fix it.
Causing disruption to thousands, with the alteration of six bus routes, LBHF have come up with a novel way to address the problem – celebrate it!
They have put up large banners saying they are restoring Hammersmith Bridge to its full Victorian glory. We need to celebrate the closure! Who knew? Ten out of ten for unabashed News Speak.
Hammersmith Bridge is a major traffic artery for thousands of Londoners. A couple of weeks ago it closed indefinitely, without prior notice. The bridge is owned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council. TfL is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance.
H&F Council is a Labour Authority and the Mayor of London is a Labour Mayor. Not wanting to criticise each other, look at the buck-passing that goes on. Click here to see LBHF’s statement on the closure.
A major cause of the damage is high bus usage. LBHF say “In 2015 we secured an agreement that there would never be more than one bus going either way at any one time. However, the bus companies consistently breached that agreement, ignoring our engineers’ warnings that this would cause a critical structural failure”. How were the bus companies meant to keep to this agreement? Have drivers semaphore from opposite ends of the bridge? If this was a critical issue, it was up to LBHF to find a way to enforce it. Which they openly admit they didn’t do!
The cost of repairing Hammersmith Bridge has risen to at least £40 million. About TfL’s failure to make adequate repairs and to stump up the cash, LBHF say “We are sympathetic to TfL’s funding problems”. Effectively “please don’t blame them”.
LBHF continues “TfL has suffered an £800million cut to its budget and has had to pay for the refurbishment of Albert Bridge and Putney Bridge in recent years.” Did TfL not realise that it was responsible for the Albert and Putney Bridges? Should Londoners send TfL some emails outlining what other bridges is it is responsible for in case they haven’t realised?
“Meanwhile, over £43million was wasted on the failed Garden Bridge folly.” I am sorry – but not relevant. TfL accountants are monitoring and managing costs and risks over a whole variety of projects at all times.
LBHF’s entire statement is effectively “It’s not our fault and please don’t blame TfL either”. Well then who? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? If you don’t want to take responsibility for managing vital infrastructure, you shouldn’t be in power.
Six bus routes used Hammersmith Bridge before its closure. That’s a huge number of people whose daily lives have been disrupted by Hammermith & Fulham Council’s failure to monitor and manage the Bridge properly.
This Saturday, TfL are implementing permanent bus changes to the area. The details of all of these changes can be found here. You can also provide comment on the changes.
Some buses now simply stop either side of Hammersmith Bridge with people advised to walk over. Others are rerouted in ways which will be entirely irrelevant for many users. The bus traffic over Putney Bridge will increase dramatically with the frequency of the 265 increasing by 5 buses an hour in both directions and the 209 also rerouted to cross Putney Bridge.
When we condense traffic to a smaller number of major arteries, air pollution gets worse as traffic slows to crawling speed.
Publicly TfL and LBHF are cooperating closely to maintain that its not their fault that a bridge that they are responsible for has closed. Let us hope that they are co-operating, as closely, behind the scenes, to get it back open.
Stephen Greenhalgh is seeking to become the directly elected Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham.
Over one month has passed since the emergency closure of Hammersmith Bridge and both Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Mayor continue to play the political blame game. H&F Council and TfL have had a “final report” on repair options for Hammersmith Bridge from their engineering consultants since the end of 2018. No plan to carry out the major works needed to reopen Hammersmith Bridge to cars and buses has yet been announced.
If I were the directly-elected Mayor, I would borrow the money to fix Hammersmith Bridge and set the borrowings against a road user charge for both buses and cars if TfL refused to stump up their fair share. The GLA Act allows both boroughs and the Mayor to levy road user charges.
I would look at two options:
- Full repair and restoration: Strengthen and repair of the existing bridge (and still maintain its listed status) so it could take modern transport. This would last 2-3 years and may only give the bridge an extra 30 years lifespan.
- Modification: Replacement with an independent structural deck. This has been done in the past when the steels of Hammersmith Bridge were rebuilt and deck replaced as part of the 1973 refurbishment. This would take the same length of time as the full repair and restoration option and could give the bridge an extra 60 years lifespan. The costs would be similar according to bridge architectural experts.
The toll would only be in the order of 50p for someone to cross the bridge by car for H&F Council to fund and then recoup the costs (this assumes 20,000 vehicles a day for 300 days – 6 million vehicle movements). For comparison a toll bridge in Bath charges 80p and Clifton suspension bridge charges £1. Hammersmith Bridge was a toll bridge originally.
Who is responsible for the Hammersmith Bridge omnishambles? Here is my view:
- H&F Labour Council have not done their bit in properly maintaining the bridge and have lost the expert officer expertise since the collapse of Triborough and Biborough collaboration.
- H&F Labour Council’s political leadership have not made the reopening the bridge to cars and buses a political priority. The council do not care about the traffic gridlock in west London but see it as a way of stopping cars coming into their brough and making Hammersmith Bridge open only to pedestrians and cyclists.
- The Mayor of London has bankrupted TfL so that TfL cannot afford to pay for infrastructure works included the major works needed to reopen the bridge.