The Department for Transport says it is willing to pay a third of the cost of getting the bridge reopened – and expects Hammersmith and Fulham council and Transport for London to pay a third each too.
However Steve Cowan, Labour leader of the the council, described the offer as “party political game-playing” and indicated he was not prepared to foot the council’s share of the bill if it meant hefty council tax rises for residents.
TfL’s contribution will effectively come from a £1bn bailout announced on Tuesday–meaning the Government is effectively paying twice–while the council has floated the idea of imposing a £3 charge on motorists to cross the bridge to finance its share of repairs.
The aim is to get the bridge reopened this summer initially to cyclists and pedestrians – and in the longer term to cars and single-deck buses.
Mr Shapps believes the 134-year-old cast iron bridge can be restored for about £90m, less than the TfL and council estimates in excess of £140m.
Engineer reports which indicated that cracks in the pedestal that held one of the steel suspension cables have not led to a significant reduction in the bridge’s strength are being double-checked. Subject to approval being received by the end of this month, the aim is to enable a partial reopening to cyclists and walkers this summer and to allow river traffic to pass underneath.
Mr Shapps, in his letter to Sadiq Khan, said: “I have been very concerned to see Hammersmith bridge… left closed for such a long time.
“The Government has made a generous offer for the reopening of Hammersmith bridge and I expect that we will see the bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists this summer, subject to confirmation of engineer reports… the end goal must be for the bridge to be reopened to motorised traffic.
“In the coming months I expect to see a robust plan from the council for the initial stabilisation works as the first step to setting out how that will be achieved.”
Mr Cowan said: “Today's announcement demonstrates the contempt this Government, and its absurdly named Taskforce, has for the people of south-west London. It is simply more of the same party political game-playing that has characterised its approach throughout.
“Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s oldest mechanical suspension bridges and one of the most expensive in Britain to repair. Yet the Government is seeking to impose an unprecedented 33 per cent of the cost on Hammersmith & Fulham. That is tens of millions of pounds more than any other London council has ever paid for bridge repairs and comes on top of the record £8.6m we are already paying.
“When I met Grant Shapps ... on November 25, I thought he was joking when he complained we had managed to deliver low council tax. He argued our residents could afford a significant hike in their council tax to pay for this ancient piece of London infrastructure – a rise that would cost each taxpayer an additional £800 a year. I explained that we will never do that.
“The vast majority of funding for the repair of London bridges has always come from Transport for London who never ask councils to pay more than 15 per cent of much lower repair bills.
“Six months ago, H&F council unveiled the radical Foster + Partners/ COWI temporary double-decker plan which would reduce the total cost by £40m and see the bridge reopened to motor vehicles three years earlier than currently planned.
“Five months ago, we proposed a toll or road charge to fund the complete repair and restoration of Hammersmith Bridge. And 102 days ago, we delivered the outline financial plan which set out the detailed rationale but despite our chasing haven’t had a response.
“These proposals - all of which are ignored in today’s announcement - provide the best value for local and national taxpayers and deliver on the bridge reopening to all traffic, including pedestrians, cyclists public transport, and motor vehicles, supporting people on both sides of the river and beyond.”
The bridge was closed to traffic in April 2019, and to walkers and cyclists in August last year, forcing people to take a long detour via Barnes, Chiswick or Putney bridges.
Julia Watkins, of residents’ group Hammersmith bridge SOS, said: “We are cautiously optimistic that the Government and TfL is committing the majority of funding to Hammersmith bridge and sincerely hope now the commitment to fully restore the bridge for vehicular use has been dropped, Hammersmith and Fulham council will do everything in its power to reopen it to pedestrians and cyclists as soon as possible, and in doing so alleviate the miserable commutes of thousands with no quick or safe way to access vital services.”
Plans for a ferry linking Hammersmith and Barnes remain on course, with services due to start in September.