Alexa Michael returns to the story of the ‘bridge too far’ she covered in 2021, a tale that is not showing London’s best face to the world

Hammersmith Bridge has been closed to cars, buses and other motor vehicles since 11 April 2019 after Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who own the 137-year-old Grade II listed bridge, discovered that its wrought-iron structure was full of cracks. Pedestrians and cyclists were stopped from using the bridge temporarily the following year.

The bridge re-opened to them on 17 July 2021 after safety experts ruled that the bridge was safe for non-vehicular traffic. However, cyclists had to dismount and push their bikes across the bridge until February 2024. At present, cyclists can ride across the bridge, although this will only be until early May when work will start on a new cycle lane.
The estimated cost of repairing the bridge is £250 million and things have got worse. When the bridge closed in 2019, the repair costs were thought to be £40 million. In December 2023, the bridge’s gantry (a platform used by repair workers to reach the bridge’s underside) was demolished by a boat ferrying West Ham football fans to Fulham FC.

On the fifth anniversary of the bridge’s closure, Hammersmith & Fulham Council warned that it could take another five years to re-open it to all traffic, even if funding could be found immediately. To date, around £30 million has already been spent by the Council and the Department of Transport (DfT) on stabilising the bridge so that it can remain partially open.
A plan to re-open the bridge fully, including a toll for drivers, was submitted by the Council in December 2022 but this is still under consideration by the DfT. As yet, there is no date for when the plan will be decided, let alone approved.

To complicate matters, there is an unresolved dispute over who should pay for the repairs to the bridge – Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Transport for London (TfL) or the DfT. This is despite the council’s proposed drivers’ toll to fund its share of the repair works. On 7 March this year, the London Assembly called on the government to provide the funds from the DfT for bridge strengthening works. It appealed to the Mayor of London (who also chairs TfL) to do everything within his power to support the council in its attempts to repair the bridge.

On 8 April, the government announced almost £3 million in funding for a new cycle lane on Hammersmith Bridge. This money, which was unexpected, will pay for the main bridge carriageway to be resurfaced and a new cycle lane prepared. It is anticipated that the new cycle lane will open in November this year. During the construction period, cyclists will have to push their bikes across the bridge as previously.

The bridge’s closure has led to greatly increased congestion in West London as vehicles are forced to divert via Putney or Chiswick bridge. Public transport routes on both sides of the bridge have to be diverted every day of the week. The London Borough of Richmond has lost access to bus services that brought its residents to the London Underground in Hammersmith. Residents and businesses in Barnes are particularly inconvenienced by the lack of a vehicular bridge crossing. There is a sense that London is unable to manage its infrastructure, including one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges. This does not look good to the world.

Alexa Michael is information executive at LCCI