Hammersmith Bridge: Thames crossing repair bill soars to £250million raising fears it won't ever reopen to traffic

The cost of repairing Hammersmith Bridge has soared to £250 million - raising fears that the Thames crossing will never reopen to vehicles.

The latest estimate, up about £100 million on previous expectations, comes as the fifth anniversary approaches of the 137-year-old bridge being closed on safety grounds.

Discussions on funding the repairs have reached a stalemate, with a government taskforce having last met more than two years ago. Sources admit there is no sign of a breakthrough, despite ongoing anger from residents.

MPs whose constituents have been blighted by the closure said the growing size of the repair bill made it “increasingly unlikely” the bridge would ever fully reopen. Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park, told the Standard: “I think it’s increasingly possible that it won’t reopen to traffic.”

The bridge, a Grade II*-listed iron structure that opened in 1887, used to carry about 22,000 vehicles a day and seven bus routes. It was closed in April 2019 by Hammersmith and Fulham council after safety sensors on the bridge, which links Hammersmith and Barnes, detected “dangerous micro-fractures” in the pedestals that hold the suspension system in place.

It partly reopened in July 2021 to pedestrians and cyclists. Since 2019, drivers have had to divert via Chiswick or Putney bridges.

The Department for Transport wants the council, which owns Hammersmith Bridge, and Transport for London to each pay a third of the repair bill, with the taxpayer funding the remainder.

But Ms Olney said: “The DfT are the only people that have access to the kind of money that is going to make the difference. No local authority has the means to foot a bill of this size.”

Thursday's Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Thursday's Standard front page (Evening Standard)

Asked to estimate when drivers might be able to use the bridge as before, she said: “Not for at least a decade.” When it first closed, the council estimated the repairs to be in excess of £40 million and expected TfL to pay the bill. TfL said it was not liable and appealed for government help. By 2021, the cost of the council’s proposed solution had grown to £141 million.

Fleur Anderson, the Labour MP for Putney, said the fifth anniversary of the bridge’s closure in April would be “a very unhappy birthday”.

She said: “The frustration is that if the Government had said ‘this is a national transport route and a major London artery, we have got to fix it’ when it was first closed, the bill would have been far, far less and it would be open by now.

“These increasing costs make it less likely the work can ever be done. I would like the Government to say ‘this is a national route. We will fund it.’” Asked when she thought the bridge would reopen, she said: “It’s several years away from when we get funding — we have not even got the funding.”

There were calls on Thursday from Conservatives for the bridge to be renamed "Sadiq Khan Bridge" because of alleged inaction from the mayor.

Tony Devenish, whose London Assembly constitiuency includes the bridge, said: “Sadiq Khan is both mayor and chairman of Transport for London. Instead of showing leadership and bringing the various parties together to try to re-open Hammersmith Bridge, he has sat idly by for five years and passed the buck.

“As long as it remains closed, it should be renamed Sadiq Khan Bridge - a road to nowhere that’s absolutely no use to anyone.”

The Labour-run council says stabilisation work, including the “jacking up” of the bridge to replace seized-up bearings, is due to conclude in the first half of this year. This work, which will require a “short series” of weekend closures to improve access for pedestrians and cyclists.

The bridge partly reopened in July 2021 to pedestrians and cyclists (Matt Writtle)
The bridge partly reopened in July 2021 to pedestrians and cyclists (Matt Writtle)

The council is also due to consult on a proposed toll — about £3 per crossing for drivers — to raise funds for its £83 million share of the repair bill. Its timetable envisages work starting on a temporary “double deck” structure in 2026.

But it has waited since last April for the DfT to approve its business case, and cannot confirm a reopening date until this happens. The DfT said today that it was still reviewing the council’s proposals. The DfT is understood to “remain committed” to paying up to a third of bill “subject to consideration on value for money and cost”.

TfL has not set aside any funds for the bridge in its new business plan, which outlines its spending until 2026-27. MPs are keen for the repaired bridge to be able to carry buses, to improve access to schools in Hammersmith, to its Tube station and to Charing Cross Hospital.

Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges — making it one of the most expensive to repair. Costs of construction materials have soared due to the war in Ukraine.

The increased cost was quietly slipped out in council documents last November, and mentioned in a subsequent debate in Parliament.

MPs said it was a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment” that it remained closed.

Ms Anderson said: “Would Brooklyn Bridge, or any other bridge in any other capital, be allowed to remain closed to all vehicles for years and years on end?”

Since 2019, the council has spent £29 million stabilising the bridge and preparing it for strengthening and restoration, of which £8.5 million has been reimbursed by the Government.

It believes its residents should be exempt from any toll. Richmond council, which covers Barnes, wants similar benefits for its residents.

Richmond council's Lib-Dem leader Gareth Roberts said: "This whole business of tolling could be avoided if the Government kept the promise it made in 2019 and just funded the repairs. It's that simple.

“Because they failed to fund the repairs when they said they would, the costs have now rocketed, making it even more difficult for Hammersmith & Fulham and TfL to cover the costs they're being asked to cover.”

The full reopening of the bridge has repeatedly been promised by Tory politicians, including by Zac Goldsmith in a failed bid to retain his parliamentary constituency in 2019 and by Shaun Bailey in his failed bid to become London mayor in 2021.

Mr Roberts added: "The Tories have tried to weaponise Hammersmith Bridge every time there's been an election. Every time it's backfired.”

Hammersmith and Fulham council did not respond to requests for an interview. It says the bridge was “largely used by motorists from south of the river and the A3 corridor” — which critics believe helps explain why it remains closed.

TfL said: “We are supporting Hammersmith and Fulham in plans to fully reopen Hammersmith Bridge to traffic.”