Government reluctant to pay for Hammersmith Bridge repairs

The Mexican stand off as to who will pay for the repairs needed to Hammersmith Bridge continues. Transport for London and Hammersmith & Fulham Council have now formally put in a bid to central Government to pay for the full cost of restoration.

In a parliamentary debate last week, MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter said: ‘We have to look to Government when major strategic assets fail. That is the case in most of the rest of the country.’

Transport Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP, standing in for Baroness Vere, who has responsibility for roads, replied: ‘The Government support the efforts to repair Hammersmith bridge and bring it back into operation in a cost-effective and speedy manner. However, we must recognise that it is for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, as the owner of the bridge, to assess the merits of different funding options for its repair’.

Hammersmith & Fulham have said all along that though they may own the bridge, they don’t have the money to repair it. Hammersmith Bridge has been closed for nearly a year, after cracks appeared in the metalwork. It has long suffered structural problems due to the weight and volume of road traffic, and had been closed for lengthy periods on several occasions previously.

TfL has committed £25m. So far they have spent £10m of that on investigating what needs to be done to strengthen the bridge. They have also committted to paying for a temporary bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, but expect the Government to foot the bill for the cost of the repair work. TfL is responsible for public transport; before its closure to vehicle traffic, Hammersmith Bridge carried 22,000 vehicles a day and 24,000 bus passengers.

Hammersmith & Fulham council has also announced that the bridge will be closed to pedestrians for this year’s Boat Race. Usually it is a popular spot from which to watch the race, but it’s not safe to hold the volume of people attracted by it.

The full cost of the repairs is not yet known. TfL say they won’t be able to put a figure on it until April, but Andy Slaughter, speaking in the debate last week, said it was expected to be at least £120m to re-open the bridge to at least its previous capacity. TfL is in the process of upgrading its fleet of buses to electric vehicles, which are considerably heavier than their diesel counterparts, so strengthening the bridge to take the weight of electric vehicles and meet future expected need would be even more costly.

Images above: Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith; Kelly Tolhurst, Minister for Transport

Minister pushes the problem back to local council

Andy Slaughter invited Transport Minister Kelly Tolhurst to provide ‘some encouraging noises…even if she has not brought the cheque with her’ but all the encouragement she was prepared to give was this:

‘Local highways authorities such as Hammersmith and Fulham Council have a duty under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the highways network in their area..

‘We have received the proposal from TfL for the repair works, and that is being considered. Baroness Vere welcomes the opportunity to work with honourable members and the council to try to find a way of bringing Hammersmith bridge back into use for the benefit of everybody.’

TfL said it needs additional funding as central Government has removed its operational grant for day-to-day running costs.

David Rowe, TfL’s head of major projects sponsorship, said:

‘Hammersmith Bridge is a strategically significant asset which, before it was restricted to pedestrians and cyclists only … Its closure to vehicles has caused significant congestion in the local area and on other bridges, as well as inconvenience to those using public transport. It is essential it is brought back into full use as soon as possible.

‘We have committed £25m to the restoration of the bridge and, with Hammersmith and Fulham Council, we have now submitted a bid to the Government for the additional funding required.’

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See also: Hammersmith Bridge to close for Boat Race

See also: TfL to build new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists at Hammersmith