Shapps: Delays in fixing Hammersmith Bridge are 'unacceptable'

10 September 2020, 05:24 | Updated: 10 September 2020, 08:25

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A government task force has been launched to restore and reopen a bridge in west London that has been closed to vehicles for nearly 18 months.

Hammersmith Bridge was closed to motor traffic in April 2019 due to structural problems including cracks in the structure's pedestals.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there has been "a lack of leadership" in London over fixing the 133-year-old structure - that since being closed has been "devastating" for locals and businesses - which is why he has set up the task force.

Mr Shapps told LBC's Nick Ferrari this morning: "I was waiting on Hammersmith Council and the Mayor to get this fixed but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated.

“It’s a key artery that’s been closed for a very long time. I think that’s unacceptable.

“I’ve got fed up waiting, frankly. So I’ve set up a task force… let’s try and get this thing sorted out.”

One resident who lives on the south side of the crossing, whose husband is a 96-year-old war veteran, told LBC Correspondent Rachael Venables that its closure has left their GP surgery almost completely inaccessible to them.

Muriel, 92, said: "Our doctor is on the other side of the bridge... if I'm a bit slow walking I could possibly just miss a bus and I'll have another half-hour to wait.

"If I'm making an appointment with the doctor I have to take all this into consideration and instead of it being a half-hour from the door to the doctors, it's about two hours."

Following a slip in the shower, Muriel's husband Joe had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

A trip that would usually take paramedics just six or seven minutes, ended up taking the injured war veteran an hour.

After this summer's heatwave, Hammersmith and Fulham Council - which owns the bridge - said the scorching temperatures caused the faults to "significantly increase".

This led to the crossing being closed to all users, including pedestrians and cyclists, while boats were banned from sailing underneath it.

The council told Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a letter that it would cost an estimated £46 million to ensure the structure is safe and to "avoid a potential catastrophic failure".

It wrote: "No local authority has that kind of money available. We therefore write to ask that the Government funds this work as a matter of urgency."

Hammersmith Bridge has been closed to motor traffic since April 2019
Hammersmith Bridge has been closed to motor traffic since April 2019. Picture: PA

Since the closure of the bridge - which was previously used by 22,000 vehicles and 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists daily - local businesses have seen incomes cut in half which has left them feeling "upset and nervous".

When one newsagent owner named Ronnie was asked by Rachael Venables whether his business could survive, he replied: "I don't think so. I can be here for another one month, or two months."

Another, named Fabrice, said he was questioning moving his French deli out of the area after being "completely ignored" by officials.

Announcing the task force, Mr Shapps said: "There has been a lack of leadership in London on reopening this vital bridge.

Grant Shapps has set up a task force to restore and reopen the bridge
Grant Shapps has set up a task force to restore and reopen the bridge. Picture: PA

"It's stopped Londoners moving about easily and caused huge inconvenience to everyone, adding extra time to their commute or journeys.

"We won't let hard-working Londoners suffer any longer. The government is setting up a task force to establish the next steps in opening the bridge as speedily as possible.

"We'll be decisive and quick to make sure we can take steps that'll be good for commuters, good for residents and good for business."

Transport minister Baroness Vere will head the group which will be initially tasked with reopening the bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, before moving on to ensure the safe return of motor traffic.

The Department for Transport has commissioned its own engineering advice on the state of the crossing.

London mayoral candidate for the Conservatives Shaun Bailey said he had been lobbying the government "to come and take control of the situation".

He wrote on Twitter: "I urged the government to fix Hammersmith Bridge because @SadiqKhan wasn’t going to.

"So I’m thrilled to announce that @GrantShapps is stepping in where the Mayor failed.

"Ministers are now taking control of the bridge and fixing it once and for all. A clear win for residents!"

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan responded to the announcement by urging the government to “put their money where their mouth is” and help fix the crossing.

He said local residents “do not need another talking shop that will lead to more delay and disruption” and told ministers they must provide the necessary funds as neither the local authority nor Transport for London have the £140 million needed to repair the bridge.

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