Hammersmith Bridge fully closed after heatwave caused cracks to worsen

13 August 2020, 20:47

Hammersmith Bridge in west London, which has been been closed with little warning on Thursday 13th August
Hammersmith Bridge in west London, which has been been closed with little warning on Thursday 13th August. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Hammersmith Bridge has fully closed after safety inspectors found cracks in the structure had worsened amid the recent heatwave, leaving locals fuming.

The 133-year-old bridge, in west London, was closed to traffic last April after severe structural issues were discovered.

The route, from Barnes to Hammersmith, was left open to pedestrians and cyclists, but from 5pm on Thursday, they too will now be unable to cross.

One local resident said it closed with “no prior warning to locals or commuters,” leaving people “stranded either side.”

Another said: “Not surprised, it needs to stay closed as it literally rocks/sways when I run across it sometimes, and the heat doesn't help either. It needs some serious work done to it before it should reopen again.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council said the move was necessary due to a “sudden deterioration in key parts of the suspension structure.”

In a statement, they said: “Specialist engineers have been undertaking 24/7 monitoring of the structural integrity of the bridge throughout using an extensive network of sensors on the 19th century structure.

“The deterioration in the structure was exacerbated by the recent heatwave which caused cracks to significantly increase – despite measures taken to mitigate the heat.

The 133-year-old bridge, in west London, was closed to traffic last April
The 133-year-old bridge, in west London, was closed to traffic last April. Picture: PA

“The bridge will remain closed until the engineers are confident that it is safe to re-open to pedestrians and river traffic.

“It means that pedestrians and cyclists must now cross the river elsewhere, while all river traffic under the bridge will also be stopped – including the pedestrian walkways under Hammersmith Bridge – while engineers examine the extent of the damage.”

There has been an ongoing row about who should pay for the bridge, with Transport for London calling for the Government to provide funding.

Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, said: “Safety is the number one priority. I’m absolutely sure that we averted a catastrophe by closing this 19th century suspension bridge to motor vehicles last year.

“We have some of the best engineers in the world working on this scheme. They advise we now face a similar dilemma. I appreciate how inconvenient this will be to thousands of people on both sides of the river and I am sorry about that, but we must follow the engineers’ advice which is why the bridge will be closed with immediate effect today.

“We will update everyone as soon as engineers have investigated the scale of the recent damage. I have instructed them to find a plan to safely reopen it as quickly as they can.”

Cllr Cowan said he was “grateful to TfL, the Mayor of London, and his team for paying for much of the works so far,” but added: “Today’s closure shows how much more work is required to get this beautiful bridge fully restored.

“And we’re – once again – calling on the Government to fund the final phases of the restoration work.

“TfL has lost 90 per cent of their revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a direct result, their funding for the on-going monitoring of the bridge and its full refurbishment is now at risk.

“We remain determined that this beautiful bridge will be fit for purpose for generations to come and we’ll continue to do everything within our power to deliver on that.”

Cllr Alexander Ehmann, Chair of the Transport and Air Quality Services Committee for Richmond Council, said: "We fully support the decision to close Hammersmith Bridge on safety measures. Safety must come first.

"Richmond Council believes that the safety of all residents must be our number one priority.

"However, what was urgent before is now an emergency. A critical piece of London’s infrastructure cannot be allowed to crumble into the Thames, while the Government and London Mayor wrangle over responsibility for the funding.

"With a potential repair bill of £140m, the Government are the only credible funding mechanism. They must now act in the public interest and supply the long-overdue funding to ensure the bridge can be saved."