Hammersmith Council and Sadiq Khan clash over bridge toll plans

Image above: Hammersmith Bridge

H&F Council Leader highlights “discrepancies” of views within Mayor’s team

Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan are at loggerheads over plans to introduce a toll charge when Hammersmith Bridge eventually reopens to vehicle traffic.

Councillor Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, recently emphasised that while decisions for Hammersmith Bridge ultimately rest with the Mayor of London and the Government, the iconic Victorian-era bridge, which has been closed to cars since 2019, would need to have its own stream of revenue to fund its ongoing maintenance.

Cllr Cowan said the bridge will remain inaccessible unless £230 million can be raised to fund vital repairs. During a Council meeting on 5 June, Mr. Cowan put forward Council’s view, saying:

“We are of the view that if you’re going to force us to open up the bridge then it’s going to have to be through a toll and the argument for a toll would be that, if the bridge is going to have a proper maintenance fund for the next 100 years, it needs to probably have its own income line.”

Cllr Cowan further highlighted what he described as the “discrepancies” within the Mayor’s team regarding the future of the bridge. He said:

“The Mayor of London told us two weeks ago that he’s not supporting a toll. Indeed, I believe there has been some discrepancies in the Mayor’s team, with some believing that the bridge would remain closed and opened for cyclists – some people believe it should be open to cars.”

Images above: Leader of H&F Council Cllr Stephen Cowan, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Council has spent £20 million repairing the bridge

Asserting that the issue extends beyond Hammersmith and Fulham, Cllr Cowan described the broken bridge as a “wider London issue” due to the traffic problems affecting residents outside the borough. He continued:

“I think it will be up to the Mayor of London to decide what will happen to the bridge, ultimately, because it is a London issue rather than a Hammersmith and Fulham issue.”

Emphasising the financial challenge, Cllr Cowan made it clear that no council, regardless of administration, has the capacity to allocate £230 million for the bridge repairs. He also revealed that the Council has already spent £20 million to stabilise the bridge.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council say they are being told by the Government to pay an “unprecedented” 33% of the original estimated repair bill which the might reasonably have expected to be  paid in large part by Transport for London and the Department for Transport.

There are ongoing discussions surrounding the future course of action, Cllr Cowan said:

“This problem is going to remain a problem and I think it’s going to be on others to decide and insist that we spend £230 million fixing this bridge or are they going to say that it has another scope for direction – and that’s what’s currently being scoped out.”

A decision on the bridge’s usage while it remains closed to cars will be made after the completion of stabilisation works at the end of summer 2023. Plans have also been submitted for the introduction of lightweight, electric shuttles to facilitate river crossings.

Image above: Plans for a two-tier temporary bridge at Hammersmith Bridge have been given the green light

Cllr Cowan accuses Tories of politicising issue

Describing the bridge repair process as one of the Council’s most stressful endeavours, Cllr Cowan accused the Tories of politicising the issue. Directing his comments at a Hammersmith and Fulham Tory councillor, he said:

“This is a national embarrassment. It is ridiculous that we have had the bridge closed and that we’ve not had any proper support because it’s being used as a political football.”

Cllr Cowan further expressed frustration at the lengthy bureaucratic meetings, remarking:

“I have wasted years of my life sitting in ridiculous task force meetings where it ended up with the minister involved ultimately saying this is a problem for Hammersmith and Fulham to fix and quite honestly, I didn’t need to sit in so many meetings to get that from a minister in the first place.”

Since the discovery of cracks and other significant defects in April 2019, engineers have been working on the project, with repairs expected to take approximately 10 years to complete. Hammersmith Bridge, listed as a Grade II* structure, is one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges, constructed using wood, wrought iron, and cast iron pedestals to hold the suspension in place.

Image above: Hammersmith Bridge

“Shocking” to accuse Tories of politicising issue, say Tories

Responding to Cllr Cowan’s comments, a DfT spokesperson said:

“LBHF is responsible for decisions regarding repairing and reopening Hammersmith Bridge, but we continue to engage with all relevant parties to find a cost effective solution, and are committed to providing up to one third of repair costs.”

They said decisions around what engineering options are taken and approaches to reopening are made by the Council and that reopening the bridge to all users, including motor vehicles, remains a Ministerial priority.

The deputy leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives, Cllr Andrew Dinsmore, said:

“It is shocking that Cllr Cowan alleged that the Conservative Party is politicising Hammersmith Bridge when it is the Labour Party that have been pursuing an anti-car agenda through (i) the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to cars, (ii) the closure of Wandsworth Bridge, (iii) the ULEZ scheme which punishes the most venerable in London, (iv) traffic schemes without proper consultation, and (v) extortionate parking charges.”

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan said:

“Hammersmith & Fulham Council have been clear that the purpose of a potential charge on the bridge would be to raise revenue to repay the costs of repair works on the bridge, and not to deliver wider transport policy objectives.

“As such, the appropriate approach to introduce the toll is through a tolling order, which would be managed by the Department for Transport. The Mayor and TfL (Transport for London) are committed to supporting the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge and will continue to work closely with the local council and the Government.”