By Allan Fuller
The official ceremony to mark the commencement of work on the Hammersmith Bridge Restoration Project took place on Wednesday (22 March). On the same day the government confirmed that it will pay its one-third share of the Phase 1 £8.9 million stabilisation works. Transport for London is also expected to confirm its contribution.
Present at the event were H&F Leader Cllr Stephen Cowan, representatives from Transport for London (TfL), Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT), and Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council.
Cllr Cowan, Baroness Vere, Cllr Roberts and TfL’s David Rowe, Head of Major Projects & Renewals, as well as Alex Batey, TfL’s Director of Investment Delivery Planning, were given a behind-the-scenes look at the work currently taking place to repair cracks in the cast-iron pedestals which are believed to have been caused by unchecked corrosion dating back over 70 years to when the bridge was owned by London County Council.
This first stage of the project will prevent future closures of the 135-year-old Grade II* listed structure to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic below, and secure the bridge to enable its subsequent full restoration.
The works - which began last month - were expedited after Hammersmith & Fulham Council decided in December to approve the £8.9m investment in full, in anticipation of the DfT and TfL subsequently agreeing to pay their shares.
H&F Council’s specialist contractors will be removing all the casings of the four corner cast-iron pedestals. Once the four casings have been removed, the contractor is required to fill the pedestals with concrete, install steel frames around them and jack up elements of the structure to replace the bearings. The casing removals and jacking operations will be undertaken using cranes that will be positioned on the carriageway at both entrances to the bridge. The Phase 1 stabilisation work is expected to be completed by the end of October. The Phase 2 strengthening and full restoration works, which will allow the bridge to re-open to buses and cars, will take place following completion of the stabilisation project.
To enable the works to be undertaken safely, the main carriageway section of the bridge is now closed off. The bridge continues to be open to pedestrians. Cyclists, motorcyclists and legal e-scooters can also still cross the bridge provided they dismount and share the footways with pedestrians. The towpath on the Barnes side of the bridge will remain open.
Access over the bridge will only be interrupted for safety reasons when jacking operations are in progress. This will only be undertaken for short periods and advance notification will be given to residents and users.
Cllr Cowan said, “I am determined to fix the bridge as speedily as possible. That’s why we took the initiative to begin the stabilisation works and to kickstart the full restoration project.
“So, I am very pleased that Baroness Vere has joined us today and formally announced the Department for Transport’s commitment to help fund the restoration project. We welcome that contribution. We look forward to TfL following suit.
“Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges, a unique part of our country’s engineering heritage and one of the most expensive bridges in Britain to repair.
“Thanks to the award-winning work by the H&F team of world-leading engineers, we have been able to re-open the bridge to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic below.
“Now we’re forging ahead with the £8.9m stabilisation programme after our team developed an alternative solution which will save local and national taxpayers £21m compared to the previous proposal.”
Baroness Vere said, “This is an incredibly important day in the long history of Hammersmith Bridge.
“Following an enormous amount of work by engineers, Government, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and TfL, I can confirm we will be injecting millions of pounds into its restoration, so it stays open to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic.
“We will not lose momentum. Work is already underway to ensure the structure is re-opened to motorists as soon as possible and returned to its former glory.”
While Cllr Roberts said, "Today is good news for residents on both sides of the bridge. It is reassuring to see H&F engineers getting on with the job and committing to keeping the bridge open as much as possible during the works programme. I also warmly welcome Baroness Vere's confirmation that the Department for Transport will pay its one-third share."
Wandsworth Council’s transport spokesman John Locker renewed his calls on Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Transport for London to undertake its full repair. He said, “This announcement by the secretary of state is of course welcome and it is great that Government money is to help secure access by pedestrians and cyclists, but the bridge needs to be reopened in full.
“The prolonged closure of this key river crossing has had a detrimental impact on residents and businesses in Putney who have borne the brunt of all the additional traffic Putney Bridge has had to cope with since the closure.”
Fleur Anderson MP for Putney feels that this funding falls well short of the mark. She said, "Everyone in Putney will be as bitterly disappointed as I am by this announcement today. Instead of a commitment to funding the full restoration of Hammersmith Bridge, which could be as much as £161 million, they are instead funding just one-third of the stabilisation works. Thousands of extra vehicles a day come through Putney. This causes huge delays and congestion, dangerously high levels of air pollution and danger for cyclists and pedestrians.
"The Hammersmith Bridge Task Force was set up two years ago and there is still no sign of the forceful, urgent action needed. Restoring Hammersmith Bridge to its "former glory" would surely mean vehicles could cross the bridge again.
“The Government is now trying to claim credit for turning up late with a paltry amount just for stabilisation instead of restoration. I have spoken in Parliament countless times about this. Still, I will again urge the Government to work constructively with Hammersmith & Fulham Council and TfL to fund the full restoration of the bridge."
On 7 March, the council allocated a further £3.5m investment to start the essential expert studies which will lead to the Phase 2 full strengthening and restoration programme. That includes essential concept design work on the alternative proposal developed by architects and engineers Foster + Partners and specialist bridge engineers COWI.
This project, which is being considered alongside the existing TfL plan, could see a temporary double-decker crossing installed using the existing bridge foundations. It may see the bridge opening to motor vehicles and buses two years earlier than proposed previously and at a lower cost to taxpayers.
Other necessary work being carried out involves geotechnical studies, crowd-loading assessments and traffic modelling. H&F says it is once again providing the funding upfront, to expedite the full re-opening of the bridge.