Rowers’ Boat Race protest over Hammersmith Bridge

Image above: Rowers protest; images from Hammersmith Bridge SOS

As Cambridge were winning the Boat Race on the River Great Ouse at Ely, frustrated local rowers were protesting on the River Thames beside Hammersmith Bridge at the lack of action over mending it.

The protesters, wearing hard hats and high vis jackets, took to the water to highlight the political impasse over who is to pay the cost of repairing the bridge, six months after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set up a task force, declaring that he would solve the problem.

Image above: Rowers protest; images from Hammersmith Bridge SOS

“Get our bridge done”

Former Olympians and Oxford and Cambridge boat race competitors took part in the protest. organised by local rowing clubs and Hamersmith Bridge SOS, who have organised a number of publicity stunts to keep the lack of activity in the headlines and keep the pressure up.

Their high-vis construction gilets bore the message: “Get Our Bridge Done”.

The Boat Race had to be moved from its traditional route along the River Thames for only the second time in its history, because the bridge is not only closed to pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, but also to boat traffic passing beneath it.

‘Rowers are one of many river users and wider local communities severely impacted by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge and the extended delays in starting repair works’ say the protest organisers.

‘The broken bridge has placed yet more strain on local businesses already pushed to breaking point by the pandemic’.

Since the bridge was closed, initially just to vehicle traiffic in April 2019, the local authorities, Transport for London and central Government have continued to pass the buck over who should pay for the repairs.

TfL has recently chosen a boat operator to run a temporary ferry service across the river, which is expected to start running in the autumn. LB Hammersmith & Fulham have come up with an innovative plan for a temporary solution for getting vehicular traffic across the bridge, in partnership with world renowned architect Richard Rogers. But nothing will happen unless there is agreement on who is to pay for it.

Image above: Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps “playing politics with the lives and livelihoods of those in this area”

Helen Pennant Rea, the Chair of the Hammersmith Bridge SOS residents’ group, put the ball firmly in the Government’s court:

“We feel for London’s rowers and their anger, as we do the hundreds of thousands of others whose lives have been impacted by the bridge closure for the last two years.

“We now know Grant Shapps MP the Secretary of State for Transport is playing politics with the lives and livelihoods of those in this area. Whilst he claims publicly to have received no financial plans from the local council, his own department has written to us contradicting what he has said.

“It’s disappointing that he prefers to blame the problem on local politicians from other parties and focus on the more glamorous multi-billion pound legacy projects like bridges and tunnels to Northern Ireland.”

Impact on river users “has been huge”

Jess Eddie, three-time British Olympic rower and medallist in the Rio Olympics said:

“The impact of the broken bridge on British rowing, other water sports and river users has been huge, confining hundreds of boats to a small section of the river. A closed Hammersmith Bridge will stop a number of important river events and races that people train for year-round, some of which have been taking place for over 100 years. Unless Grant Shapps shows some leadership and commits to a repair solution, we’ll be looking at the cancellation of next year’s boat race too.”

Mark Luciani, Captain of London Rowing Club commented:

”We really hope the Government will listen to our request and put an end to these fundamentally un-necessary delays in repairing Hammersmith Bridge, that hugely compromise a key sport for everybody from elite athletes through to school children. The time has come for our nation’s leaders to stop playing politics with the bridge and listen to locals. You got Brexit done. Now get our bridge done.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: TfL appoints operator to run temporary Hammersmith ferry service
See also: Radical new plans for temporary crossing over Hammersmith Bridge

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