HBSOS Questionnaire To London Mayoral Candidates re Hammersmith Bridge
Answers in red
This response is from the Rt Hon Sadiq Khan Mayor of London (who responded with a full letter):
Thank you for contacting me about Hammersmith Bridge. I know the closure of the Bridge has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and I share your frustration that a funding package for repairing the Bridge has not yet been agreed.
I am aware that Hammersmith Bridge is a crucial arterial route in south west London – that is why Transport for London (TfL) and I have been clear since 2019 that the Bridge must be repaired so that it can reopen to vehicle traffic. Following its early investigative work in 2019, TfL established that the optimum solution would see the Bridge restored to its previous level of operation – unlimited motor vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes, 2 x 19.5 tonne buses at any one time, and emergency vehicles (the 19.5 tonne capacity provides future proofing for single-decker electric buses). I agree with this assessment.
The total cost of repair currently stands at £141m. It is abundantly clear that this sum is unaffordable for Hammersmith & Fulham Council (LBHF), as it would be for any local authority. LBHF, like so many other local authorities, has been subject to substantial budget cuts since 2010. LBHF’s annual net budget has been cut from £180m in 2010 to £124m this year. This means the cost of repairing the Bridge would be more than the Council’s entire budget.
TfL has also been subjected to the worst financial shock in its history because of the pandemic. Travel restrictions – rightly put in place to protect Londoners – meant that its income dried up to a trickle overnight in March last year, and has come nowhere near its normal levels since. TfL’s financial situation has been one of my foremost concerns over the last few months. I have been clear elsewhere on the scale of the challenge we face to plug the gap in TfL’s finances over the coming years, so I will not repeat it here; but suffice to say that TfL does not currently have £141m to cover the full costs of the repair and will not for several years. You may be aware that TfL has so far spent c. £16m on investigative works and design/planning work.
My view is that a combination of central Government funding and a local contribution from TfL/local authorities will be required. I am aware that various voices from across the political spectrum have proposed a toll (with discounts for residents in the boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond). I believe this proposal merits further investigation. Decisions about toll levels and discounts/exemptions should only be taken after a thorough assessment of traffic modelling, so as to ensure the toll is set in a way which provides the best overall solution for traffic management in the wider area.
Ultimately though, the Government must recognise the unique challenge posed by the Bridge, which is the earliest remaining example of a suspension structure over the river, built from materials which need particular expertise to repair. It must recognise that this is a strategic national asset, serving users beyond just south west London, which cannot be left to languish because the Government’s priority for infrastructure investment is in the Midlands and the North of England.
Despite no movement from Government to date on the overall funding challenge, I am pleased that some limited funds have been made available for pre-stabilisation works (blast-cleaning and a visual inspection of the western pedestals); as well as for TfL to begin operating a ferry later this year. Though TfL had initially proposed a temporary footbridge, following the Bridge’s full closure in August of last year this became no longer feasible, because building a temporary footbridge would not overcome the issue that river traffic was facing of no longer being able to pass underneath the main Bridge safely. The Taskforce subsequently decided that a ferry was therefore the best interim option for restoring the crossing to pedestrians and cyclists, though TfL was clear that this option would also be operationally challenging – as any river crossing always is, and particularly so given the specific tidal conditions at Hammersmith.
Progress has been made and TfL has now confirmed that Uber Boat by Thames Clippers will provide a total of 800 movements per hour (400 each way) during the peaks and a total of 400 movements per hour (200 each way) during the off-peak period. Peak hours are specified as 06:00 - 10:00 and 15:00 - 19:00 Monday to Friday. The service will operate 06:00 to 22:00 seven days a week, and tickets will cost the same as an equivalent bus journey, with my Hopper fare meaning that unlimited trips on the ferry and buses can be taken within an hour for £1.55.
If I am re-elected next month, one of my first actions will be to invite the Secretary of State for Transport to City Hall to discuss how we can expedite funding for the Bridge and how we can bring the necessary urgency to his Taskforce, which to date has sadly been little more than a talking shop.
This is an issue which must be above party politics, and I cannot stand idly by while the lives of south west Londoners continue to be blighted because no one will cut the red tape and commit to a proper solution.
I hope this has been helpful in setting out my views on this important matter. Once again, I would like to thank you for your continued patience during what I know has been an incredibly difficult time for local residents.
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan Mayor of London