Before Christmas I met with the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Stephen Cowan and in January I met with the Head of Infrastructure Sponsorship at TfL, David Rowe, who is leading on Hammersmith Bridge at TfL.
Both TfL and Hammersmith & Fulham Council agree that the Beckett Rankine proposals are unfeasible and Cllr Cowan and David Rowe explained why a temporary walking and cycling bridge is the best alternative.
The Beckett Rankine proposal fails to address the movement of river traffic as the span between the proposed five piers does not meet the Port of London Authority (PLA) requirement of 80 metres of navigable channel. A key advantage of a walking and cycling bridge is that is does not need to take as much weight and therefore requires fewer piers, complying with the PLA.
On the Richmond side of the river, the proposed footpath of the vehicle bridge does not provide safe working room between the pedestal of the bridge and the road. Furthermore, the approximate location of the bridge’s Anchor Chamber is very close to residential properties. TfL therefore conclude that in order to maintain access to the Anchor Chamber, which is vital to the repair works, the properties would potentially have to be demolished. On Queen Caroline Street, where the other side of the bridge would land, all parking bays would need to be removed and the street would have to be widened. The walking and cycling bridge that TfL proposes would be far narrower and so avoids these problems.
TfL’s proposed bridge would also enable the main works on the bridge to be delivered far more quickly. The bridge is currently operating under a case for consideration, which means it is constantly being monitored to see if there are changes to the cracks. If the cracks get significantly worse, the entire bridge would be closed and there is a possibility that even river access would be stopped. TfL therefore want to be able to have full access to the bridge, without pedestrians or cyclists, in order to repair the bridge as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In terms of the time frame for the walking and cycling bridge, once the environmental screening is submitted and approved by the Port of London Authority and the Environment Agency, the planning application would then be reviewed by Richmond and Hammersmith & Fulham councils and the bridge would be built in the summer.
TfL currently estimate that the repairs to the current bridge will take three years, however they will not know the full extent of the cracks until all the paint is removed from the bridge. TfL have committed £25 million but cannot put forward any further funds without assurance from the government of stable and sustainable funding. TfL continue to press the government on the issue, and Baroness Vere, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, confirmed, in an oral question in the House of Lords on the 7th of January, has said she is open to supporting the funding for the bridge. Heidi Alexander, the Deputy Mayor of London for Transport, is currently trying to arrange a meeting with Baroness Vere, which I hope to attend. I will impress on the government the impact the closure of the bridge is having on my constituents.
In the meantime, I am deeply sympathetic to the difficulties many of you are facing in terms of traffic congestion. TfL have already re-timed the key signalised junctions, including Chalkers Corner, to optimise traffic flow; they are continually monitoring and updating this. Furthermore, they have increased the 265 bus service, extended the 419 route and created new routes for the 533, 378, N33 and N72 buses.
I hope that, once the walking and cycling bridge is established, we can encourage rickshaw and other innovative solutions to aid passage across the river for less able residents. I will continue to work with TfL and other bodies to seek solutions to the congestion issues that are causing such difficulty to all our residents.
I have also written to the ministers of state who came to the constituency during the election to ask them to continue their support for the rapid restoration of the bridge and to commit any additional funding required to complete the repairs. I received a response from George Freeman, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport agreeing that a temporary traffic bridge is unfeasible.