Hammersmith Bridge: Council under pressure in funding negotiations

08/06/2021
Dominic Browne

The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce met in early June and confirmed that the Department for Transport (DfT), Transport for London (TfL) and the local council would develop a memorandum of understanding on funding the bridge's repairs.

The 134-year old suspension bridge was closed to traffic in April 2019 after cracks were found in the structure, and then to all walkers and cyclists in August last year.

The taskforce was chaired by transport minister Baroness Vere, and included the project director, Dana Skelley, along with representatives from the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF), the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, the Greater London Authority, TfL and the Port of London Authority.

The news follows the latest TfL funding deal announced on 1 June.

Under the terms of the £1.08bn bailout, the DfT said it expects to draw up a memorandum of understanding with TfL and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to fund the re-opening of Hammersmith Bridge – ‘initially to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and, depending on cost, to motorists’.

The Government said the reported £100m cost should be ‘led by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and TfL; HMG will not directly contribute more than one-third of the costs’.

However, the local Labour-run council has baulked at this, meaning there will be further negotiations before any understanding is signed.

Council leader Steve Cowan said the announcement 'demonstrates the contempt this Government, and its absurdly named Taskforce, has for the people of south-west London'.

'It is simply more of the same party political game-playing that has characterised its approach throughout. Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s oldest mechanical suspension bridges and one of the most expensive in Britain to repair. Yet the Government is seeking to impose an unprecedented 33% of the cost on Hammersmith and Fulham. That is tens of millions of pounds more than any other London council has ever paid for bridge repairs and comes on top of the record £8.6m we are already paying.

'The vast majority of funding for the repair of London bridges has always come from Transport for London who never ask councils to pay more than 15% of much lower repair bills.'

The council has suggested a Foster + Partners/ COWI temporary 'double-decker plan' for the bridge. This would see the bridge re-opened to motor vehicles three years earlier than currently planned and at £40m less cost, the council said.

It has also floated the idea of imposing a £3 charge on motorists to cross the bridge to finance its share of repairs. This idea appears to have been dismissed by government, which reportedly wants Hammersmith and Fulham Council to raise local taxes to help pay for the repairs.

Mr Cowan continued: 'When I met Grant Shapps ... on November 25, I thought he was joking when he complained we had managed to deliver low council tax. He argued our residents could afford a significant hike in their council tax to pay for this ancient piece of London infrastructure – a rise that would cost each taxpayer an additional £800 a year. I explained that we will never do that.'

The independent Board responsible for the Case for Continued Safe Operation, reporting to the council, will conduct a new assessment for controlled and limited reopening of the bridge to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic once further investigations and report validations are completed at the end of June.

Dana Skelley, speaking on behalf of the Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce, said: ' At last week’s taskforce meeting we confirmed the immediate next steps following the latest extraordinary TfL funding deal announced on Tuesday 1 June 2021.

'As set out in the TfL funding deal, the Department for Transport, TfL and LBHF will now develop a memorandum of understanding in relation to funding the project. The taskforce awaits a decision from LBHF on its preferred engineering solution for stabilisation, what this will cost and how LBHF’s contribution will be funded.'

The group also discussed the potential protocols, which will be implemented if the Case for Continued Safe Operation Board agrees to a limited and controlled reopening of the bridge to pedestrians, cyclists and expanded river transits in July.

Engineers plan to meet in the coming days to discuss this in more detail.

TfL confirmed its aim for a ferry crossing to be operational by late summer, subject to the appropriate planning and consent processes, providing a link across the river that will remain open during any closures for works on the structure.

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