“Frustrated” rowers have staged a protest in hard hats and high-vis jackets on the River Thames to express their frustration about a lack of action towards repairing Hammersmith Bridge.
The 134-year-old west London bridge has been closed to traffic since April 2019, when cracks appeared in its pedestals.
It then closed to pedestrian, cyclist and river traffic in August after a heatwave caused the faults to “significantly increase”.
On Sunday, the day of the annual University Boat Race, 12 boats of rowers wearing construction gear rowed from the traditional start of the race in Putney to the bridge.
Challenges posed by the pandemic and the uncertainty over the safety of the bridge resulted in this year’s race being moved to Ely, Cambridgeshire.
Mark Lucani, 41, captain of the 165-year-old London Rowing Club, said the ongoing closure of the bridge was a “massive blow to everyone”.
He told the PA news agency: “Essentially, it was a mark of our frustration around that, coinciding with the Oxford and Cambridge race which is happening today but not on the championship course.
“We had the message of ‘let’s get the work done on the bridge, stop politicking and take action’.
“The bridge has been shut for almost a year now and no physical work has begun yet.”
He added: “Every user of the river has felt the negative impact.”
Jess Eddie, three-time British Olympic rower and medallist in the Rio Olympics, said: “The impact of the broken bridge on British rowing, other water sports and river users has been huge, confining hundreds of boats to a small section of the river.
“A closed Hammersmith Bridge will stop a number of important river events and races that people train for year-round, some of which have been taking place for over 100 years.”
Julia Watkins, 52, a spokesperson for campaign group Hammersmith Bridge SOS, said the lack of action towards fixing the bridge left her feeling “absolutely despairing”.
Ms Watkins, who lives in north Barnes near the bridge, said a 10-minute walk to amenities on the other side of the bridge now takes up to 90 minutes.
She called for the Government to act swiftly, with central government to shoulder most of the cost as the bridge is “national infrastructure”.
Ms Watkins told PA: “Not only is a historic part of our nation’s history just lost as the Boat Race seems unlikely to happen at Hammersmith for years to come, there are thousands of ordinary people who are really suffering due to the Government’s inaction to fix a bridge.
“It’s quite unbelievable that they cannot fix a bridge that is 200 metres long and is a vital transport link for Londoners.”