The Transport Secretary announced today that he has established a task force to work on rapid solutions to issues caused by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
Grant Shapps cited a “lack of leadership” over the renovation of Hammersmith Bridge, which saw 16,000 people and more than 22,000 vehicles crossing it every day before its closure.
The 133-year-old bridge, which closed to all traffic last month creating jam traffic for residents and adding extra time on schoolchildren’s journey, has been in the midst of a political battle between Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Richmond Council, Transport for London (TfL) and the Government.
Mr Shapps tweeted: “Londoners have waited too long for Hammersmith Bridge to be fixed so they can get on with their journeys.
“That’s why today I’ve established a task force and called in specialist engineers to deliver rapid solutions.”
Transport minister Baroness Vere will be in charge of the task force.
The government’s takeover follows several protests and a petition from local residents, who have been calling for temporary solutions as schools have reopened and the government is encouraging people to get back to the office.
Richmond MP Sarah Olney added: “I am delighted that the Department for Transport are finally engaging in this issue after weeks of silence.
“This is down to the actions of local residents who have been suffering because of the lack of action.
“I hope for all our sakes that the Transport Secretary puts his money where his mouth is to get this moving and out of this painful standstill.”
Delighted to hear a commitment to action on #hammersmithbridge from @transportgovuk but would prefer urgent progress on a temporary bridge and a commitment to permanent repairs to a task force. Solutions aren’t lacking – funding is. https://t.co/UL8zp7FTrw— Sarah Olney (@sarahjolney1) September 9, 2020
In April last year, several hairline micro-fractures were discovered in the cast iron casing around the pedestals that have held the suspension chains in place since 1887.
Originally, the bill for the bridge repairs amounted to £120m following an estimation from engineers, with Transport for London accepting to finance the first £25m.
Furthermore, a £46m investment is needed to allow repairs for a partial reopening of the bridge to cyclists and pedestrians only.
The repairs are set to cost £141m, which neither Hammersmith & Fulham Council, owner of the bridge, nor TfL can afford.
Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands questioned the bill’s extra costs in a Freedom of Information request, which was denied on “national security grounds”.
Last week, residents took part in a protest that gathered people from both sides of the bridge, asking for more funding and political commitment.
“People want a public meeting”, said protest organiser Helen Pennant-Rea.
Last year, a meeting was organised for residents to voice their concerns to their representatives.
Ms Pennant-Rea, who lives in Barnes, said: “What I want is a similar meeting now the bridge closed entirely.
“There’s probably about six stakeholders, all of whom, for one reason or another, cannot sort this on their own. It needs central government to step in, get them all together, see where the blockages are.
“This is like an emergency.”
Before the reopening of schools, TfL added an extra 230 buses across the city for children to get to school safely while Covid-19 recommendations are in place but parents recognise that these transports are not enough.
Barnes resident Michelle Coulter said her two teenage daughters used the bridge every day to get to school as buses were infrequent and she could not drive them herself and now are forced to cycle a longer route.
She said: “My mental health is suffering with the worry about this situation.
“I simply do not know how my daughters can get to school when it gets darker. I feel that the inaction on this issue is forcing me to choose between my children’s education and their safety.”
Protest organiser Dionne Bridgeman said: “The main issue is the huge increase in traffic down our road. When the bridge first shut, it was like a car park outside my house every time I walked out in the two rush hour slots.
“I felt so distraught and miserable.”
After an increase of pollution due to the rise of traffic, Ms Bridgeman, a secondary school teacher, created a Facebook group to connect with other residents and brainstorm further action to alarm the authorities.
She added: “I’m very connected with the south side and we recognise that we’ve got to galvanise the Fulham and Hammersmith people.
“The next thing is really pushing to get that petition up to 100,000 because it might be debated. The government has to step in and do something.
“I understand some people would like to keep it just for bikes and walking for the environment but that is not fair as traffic goes all the way to Kingston, Kew, Chiswick and beyond.”
Kingston resident Samantha Barton said: “I need to access hospital appointments in central London and I travel via patient transport ambulance.
“Sometimes it gets stuck in so much traffic, it makes us too late to get to the hospital and they have turned around and returned me home without attempting my appointment.
“It’s too stressful when you have appointments to get to and you can’t access the health care that you need.”
Several solutions have been imagined, like a temporary bridge, and small ferries with a 10-people capacity to allow for children to cross the river.
New owner of Harrods Wharf dock Jamie Waller said: “I have publicly come out and said anybody can use it for free for a year to fix this problem immediately for the community.
“I’ve been in contact with two smaller ferry companies that are planning on putting on 10-people at a time ferries. The first stage is for one of them to be granted a licence, then it’s a simple process of getting planning consent to load passengers each side.
“These solutions would just take around three weeks to mobilise as soon as consents are in place.”
The small ferries would enable children to reach school on the other side of the river, like St Paul’s School and Harrodian.