|Finger Pointed At Mayor Over Hammersmith Bridge Closure|
Opponents say budgetary mismanagement is behind decision to close to traffic
Recriminations are flying following the shock closure of Hammersmith Bridge. It has now emerged that there was a few minutes notice given by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to other agencies that the bridge was to be shut.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has been blamed for the closure of bridge, despite it being council-owned due to Transport for London's refusal to fund a refurbishment programme.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council announced on Wednesday (10 April) it would be closing the bridge over 'safety concerns'. The decision was made when sensors discovered the deficiencies in the 132-year-old structure, used by 20,000 vehicles per day
In a statement, the council said: 'Our weekly safety checks have revealed critical faults and we have no choice but to shut the bridge. We're sorry we couldn't give you more warning.
'We have a fully tested plan to refurbish the bridge and we're ready to start work. But, due to government budget cuts, Transport for London (TfL) says it can no longer fund the planned refurbishment. This is a huge disappointment.'
The cost of work needed to make the bridge safe is reported to be as much as £40 million which TfL say they cannot afford due to financial constraints. There has been speculation for some time about the delayed major refurbishment, originally planned to begin last year, of the 130 year-old Grade II listed bridge, as reported in February by the Barnes Bugle's Sarah Arthur.
Now Tony Devenish, the London Assembly Member for Hammersmith and Fulham, has hit out at Mr Khan for the problem. He said, 'The state of Hammersmith Bridge has been a perennial issue which I have raised time after time with the Mayor over many months.
'It is completely unacceptable that this sorry saga has ended with indefinite closure; this will come as a real blow to the countless residents who desperately need this link to cross the river.
'Make no mistake, these failures come directly as a result of Sadiq Khan's mismanagement of the transport budget and reckless policies, such as his expensive and ineffective partial fares freeze.'
The spokesperson for the Mayor of London said, 'The council owns the bridge and is responsible for its maintenance and refurbishment.
'However, TfL are looking at what they can do to assist the council in the short term to get the bridge back open, while helping them identify the money in the long term to fully upgrade the bridge.
'Refurbishment work would require substantial further design work and funding, at the same time as central government has decimated council budgets and removed TfL's operational grant for day-to-day running costs.'
Richmond Council, which covers the southern side of the bridge say they were given just minutes' notice before it was closed indefinitely.
The Council's cabinet member for transport, Councillor Alexander Ehmann, wrote to his counterpart at Hammersmith and Fulham urging him to work more closely with Richmond in the future.
In his letter, he lamented how little time he had been given to plan for the disruption, which he suggested could last years.
Speaking after sending the letter, Cllr Ehmann said, 'It is disappointing that, despite efforts of Richmond Council officers to impress upon Hammersmith and Fulham Council the impact of any closure of Hammersmith Bridge on our residents, we were given only minutes' notice of its indefinite closure.'
He said it was 'no secret' that the bridge required urgent work, and urged Hammersmith and Fulham to engage 'much more extensively' with Richmond to find a long-term solution.
The bridge was not designed to have extreme weight placed on it – in 2015 more than 100 buses were using it each hour, which caused huge structural stress.
A spokeswoman for Hammersmith and Fulham Council said: 'Richmond's officers have failed to turn up to meetings to discuss the potential for closures on several occasions, when all other stakeholders were present.
'So we've also held meetings in Richmond's town hall to keep everyone up to date on the refurbishment programme and on potential for last minute closures.
'Unfortunately, the damage found was critical, so more notice was not possible. But Richmond officers were notified within half an hour – they even emailed to thank us for the swift response.'
Local MP Andy Slaughter has urged the government to foot the bill to repair Hammersmith Bridge, claiming Transport for London lacks the funding. He said the Department for Transport (DfT) should 'underwrite' the cost, which could be 'tens of millions'. Though he admitted TfL would normally be expected to cover the cost.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, he wrote, 'Because of the withdrawal of central government funding for TfL, which amounted to more than £700 million a year, it is no longer feasible for TfL to pay for such works out of its operating budget.
'I am therefore writing to ask what your department, alone or with the cooperation of the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, intends to do to ensure that the repair works are properly and promptly funded.'
A DfT spokesperson said: 'The council will receive nearly £160 million this year to deliver services and look after key infrastructure as the local highway authority.
'In addition, we are providing Transport for London with £11 billion between 2015 and 2021 to invest in key infrastructure projects.'
Hammersmith and Fulham council leader, Steve Cowan said his staff have had a repairs plans 'waiting for sign off for over two years', and agreed that the government should cover the cost.
The closure of the bridge is already leading to significant traffic issues in the Chiswick and Barnes areas which are expected to intensify once the school holidays end.
Written with contributions from Kate Oglesby, Owen Sheppard and Calum Rutter - Local Democracy Reporters
April 15th, 2019