Is the river wall at Strand on the Green in danger of collapsing?

Image: The gap between the tow path and the river wall beside the Bull’s Head pub

No action yet from Hounslow Highways or Hounslow Council more than a year after detailed inspection concluded repairs were ‘urgent’

A gap has appeared between the river wall and the tow path at Strand on the Green over the past few years. Hounslow Council and Hounslow Highways have acknowledged urgent work is needed to repair the river wall, and have promised to do something about it, but more than a year on from a report which concluded there was damage of ‘high severity’ where ‘urgent’ work was needed, they have yet to carry out the work.

The gap, which measures about 5cms, is underneath Kew Railway Bridge, and runs along the edge of the path outside the Bull’s Head pub. It looks as if the wall has moved away from the path.

The river wall supports not only the tow path but the ground behind it, on which stand the pub, the railway bridge and houses. If the retaining wall collapsed, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Images: The gap between the tow path and the rivver wall beside the Bull’s Head pub; foot for scale

Gap first reported by Chiswick Calendar three years ago

The gap was first reported by The Chiswick Calendar in July 2021, and an inspection of the wall was carried out as a result.

READ MORE: Gap opens up along the tow path at Strand on the Green

The Network Manager at Hounslow Highways, Satbir Gill, told us then it did not look as if the wall was in imminent danger of collapse, but they would continue to monitor it while they considered their options, and they were looking at the best long-term solution. He explained one option would be to anchor the wall, to stop it moving, but there were other techniques to be considered.

Cllr Guy Lambert, the Cabinet Member on Hounslow Council with responsibility for highways, said it was quite clear it was the Council’s responsibility and is something which “clearly should be addressed before it develops into something much worse.”

Images: River wall by the railway bridge at Strand on the Green from the foreshore (L) looking east; (R) looking west

February 2023 Strand on the Green Residents Association takes it up with LB Hounslow and Hounslow Highways

In February last year concerned local residents met LB Hounslow officials and councillors and Hounslow Highways engineers to discuss the problem and it was decided that a planned inspection of the wall due in 2025 should be brought forward.

There is a regular programme of inspection – some are cursory, visual assessments, while others, ‘Principle’ inspections, which are detailed inspections, are carried out every six years.

The next Principle inspection, due in 2025, was brought forward to March 2023, resulting in the report identifying areas of ‘high severity’ that needed ‘urgent’ work.

Chair of the Strand on the Green residents association (SoGA) Ann Collins has been in touch with LB Hounslow and Hounslow Highways through a series of emails, conversations and meetings since she took over the Chair in January 2023. Though she has not seen the full, detailed report, she has seen a summary and been told it indicated ten “high priority core defects” and that areas of the wall were classified as “close to collapse”.

Image above: Further along the tow path, looking west

Second meeting in April

Ann was at the February meeting and at a subsequent meeting in April with Hounslow Highways, LB Hounslow and Cllr Guy Lambert, at which the draft report was discussed. At first she was optimistic the Council was taking the problem seriously and would act.

“I left that meeting under the impression they were going to do the work”, she told The Chiswick Calendar.

Maintenance of the wall and the tow path is the responsibility of Hounslow Council. Although Hounslow Highways looks after highways in the borough, and the tow path is recognised as a designated highway, repairs to the river wall are not part of the package of work for which they are regularly responsible.

Instead, when work needs doing to the tow path or the river wall, the Council allocates a budget and commissions Hounslow Highways to do that specific piece of work.

Images above: Steps up from the Strand; Close up of the wall

Work scheduled for ‘early spring’

In November Ann was told works would be scheduled for early spring. Realising that the Council were setting their budget for the year in February and they would have to allocate budget to it, she got in touch with the Council again in February, a year on from their first meeting, this time contacting Council Leader Shantanu Rajawat directly, as well as officials in the Highways, Environment and Climate department.

“Shantanu said he would pass it on to the relevant people” Ann told us, “and Sabeel [the officer responsible for organising the work to be done], said they had commissioned, and had budget for further detailed analysis and a plan, which was surprising because this is what they were supposed to be doing last year.”

But still there has been no sign of workmen on the foreshore and no indication of when the work is scheduled to be done.

Images: Stretch of the path looking west, beheath the railway bridge; Stretch of the path looking east from the slipway

“Nothing that has happened in the past 12 months gives me any confidence that this is going to happen soon.”

Ann has asked again this week when it will be carried out. She has been in touch with the Council and Hounslow Highways regularly since that first meeting over a year ago.

“Nothing that has happened in the past 12 months gives me any confidence that this is going to happen soon.”

Meanwhile, in the period since the report was carried out the towpath has been soaked repeatedly by high autumn and spring tides, and there has also been heavy rainfall draining down the widening gap between the path and the wall and potentially washing away the foundations.

England saw a record amount of rainfall in the year and a half leading up to last month, according to figures from the Met Office. They have recorded the highest amount of rain for any 18-month period in England since the organisation began collecting comparable data back in 1836 – 1,695.9mm of rain between October 2022 to March 2024.

To the untrained eye, it looks as it the wall is tilting.

“If you stand on the slipway underneath the railway bridge you can see quite clearly that the wall is not at a 90 degree angle,” said Ann.

This is not just a concern for local residents, she says. Strand on the Green is an outstandingly beautiful area, used by many hundreds of local people routinely and by many visitors to London, and the river wall is part of the flood defences for London.

Image above: A popular spot for visitors; photograph Anna Kunst

Response from LB Hounslow and Hounslow Highways

After talking to Ann, The Chiswick Calendar put the following questions to the Council and Hounslow Highways:

Can you tell me what is happening?

I understand the Principal inspection last March found damage of ‘high severity’ and that areas of the wall have been classified as ‘close to collapse’ – can you explain what is happening to the wall?

  • Is there a programme of work scheduled for repairing the river wall?
  • What is planned?
  • When will it be carried out?
  • Has the budget for it been allocated?
  • What is the process? Will it be carried out by Hounslow Highways engineers or a specialist firm brought in?
  • If so, have you chosen one? Signed a contract? Agreed a start date?

Here is what they said:

‘Hounslow Highways, on behalf of Hounslow Council and working with the PFI Client Team, have been actively engaged in conducting Annual Structural inspections of the Strand on the Green retaining wall since before concerns were raised in 2021.

‘These inspections, which assess the condition of the wall, initially yielded satisfactory scores.  However, in 2022, some signs of deterioration began to emerge, and by 2023, more serious issues were identified and raised for further investigation and attention.

‘In light of these pending findings, it has been recommended that a thorough, close-up inspection of the retaining wall be undertaken by external specialist surveyors to facilitate a comprehensive analysis. This in-depth examination will enable the identification of specific areas requiring different  types of repairs. This inspection will occur within the next four weeks and a final report produced soon after.

‘These findings will form the basis of a Capital Project proposal for the Council to consider, review and confirm a programme of works with a specialist service provider, incorporating recommendations provided by the Strand on the Green Residents Association (SOGA).

‘Throughout this process, there has been ongoing communication between the involved teams and relevant stakeholders, including Ward Councillors and SOGA.  This communication  will continue as project findings unfold, ensuring transparency and keeping stakeholders informed of progress.’

Image: Enjoying the sunshine at Strand on the Green; photograph Jennifer Griffiths

Another detailed report needed before the budget can be put to Cabinet

When I asked for further clarification they said as the ‘Principle Inspection’ last March identified serious defects, there now needed to be a ‘Design Inspection’ to provide a detailed solution as to how to make the repairs.

The Design inspection (and report) is being done by a different supplier to the Principle inspection, whose expertise is structural maintenance, as opposed to structural inspections. Only once they have the detail of how to solve the problem will they be ready to put the budget to Cabinet.

They did not elaborate on why the process, given that this is ‘urgent’, is taking so long.

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