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Hammersmith Bridge

Volume 801: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support, if any, they are giving to the repair of Hammersmith Bridge.

My Lords, while transport in London is devolved and the maintenance of London’s roads is a matter for Transport for London and the London boroughs, we recognise the vital importance of this key river crossing for the people of London and will consider any proposals put forward by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in conjunction with TfL.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Answer as far as it goes. Does the Minister agree that this will be an enormous financial burden either on the local authorities adjacent to the bridge or on Transport for London? Should not the Government’s infrastructure fund—the announcement of £600 million or so—be devoted, at least in part, to rebuilding the bridge? If not, it will stay unused, except by bicycles and pedestrians, for many years.

I agree with the noble Lord that Hammersmith and Fulham might not have the financial resources, or perhaps the skills, to repair the bridge on its own. As it is an asset that benefits a wider area in London, the responsibility perhaps lies more broadly, and I expect that TfL will take a role in driving the project forward. As I have mentioned, we have not yet received any request for funding from TfL, but we will of course consider it should it arise.

My Lords, might I declare an interest in that I live only a few yards from the end of Hammersmith Bridge? During the election campaign, quite a number of Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Transport and Treasury Ministers, came and made little videos at the end of the bridge. I was the elderly-looking lady in a hat with grocery bags standing in front of them. They committed to full financing being immediately available with no questions. I hope that they will also follow through and provide financing for the temporary pedestrian and cycle bridge necessary to speed up the repair work.

My Lords, certainly not elderly, I am sure. I, too, made one of those videos—perhaps the noble Baroness did not see it. The key thing is that we said we would consider any proposals put to us. If the noble Baroness goes back to the videos, I think she will find that that was indeed the case. We will consider all proposals, but it will be up to TfL to put forward proposals according to its priorities. I remind the noble Baroness, however, that TfL has a budget of around £10 billion. Within that budget, the streets funding stream has operating costs of £500 million. There is also a pot for capital investment of £250 million.

My Lords, I also declare an interest as a Barnes resident. Can the Minister give an assurance that it will always remain possible for pedestrians and bicycles to cross at Hammersmith while the bridge is being repaired, and that the new bridge will be designed with a long-term lifespan, rather than be yet another short-term fix for a few years?

The noble Lord is quite right. I understand that TfL and Hammersmith and Fulham both want to keep the bridge open to cyclists and pedestrians. I understand that there is a proposal to put some sort of temporary bridge alongside the existing structure, which will help active transport and other things like that. As for repairs for the future, the noble Lord is quite right. This bridge was built in 1887 for horses, carts and penny farthings, so it is clear that we need repairs that will last for decades to come.

My Lords, I am afraid I also have to declare an interest. Does the Minister think that there are lessons to be learned from this for the long term? It has been predicted for years that Hammersmith Bridge will require major repairs and funding. Why was a proper fund not built up with this kind of contingency in mind?

I believe that is indeed the case. That question might, therefore, be better directed at the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has responsibility for transport in London.

Does the Minister recall that, during the general election, Mr Boris Johnson pledged to consider building a bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland, even though there are hundreds of tonnes of explosives in Beaufort’s Dyke, put there because it was supposedly a safe place? If the Government cannot keep Hammersmith Bridge open, how on earth are they going to manage to do that? Is this going to go ahead?

The noble Lord is quite right. We have indeed asked officials to look at various options for bridges which would strengthen our union, and I understand that there is some talk of a potential tunnel, now that tunnelling costs are cheaper than they used to be. Watch this space, but perhaps do not hold your breath.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the same part of London there is something called the Chiswick flyover, which I believe was set up as a temporary bridge I do not know how many decades ago? Does she therefore share my concern at the talk of a temporary crossing at Hammersmith Bridge and wonder whether that will also be there in 50 years’ time?

I am sure many noble Lords know and love the Chiswick flyover. A more serious point is that the Government are already investing in a number of bridges in London. We are considering bids from TfL to help with improvements to Kew Bridge, the Croydon flyover and the bridge at Gallows Corner. The Government are investing in bridges in London; we rely on receiving requests for funding in the first place.

What percentage of the cost of repairing Hammersmith Bridge do the Government believe they themselves should bear?

I cannot answer that question, because I have not received a proposal. At the moment, the costs for repairing the bridge are estimated to be £120 million but this is a very early stage of the process. We should recognise that TfL has already stepped up to the plate and committed £25 million to make sure that the early work can start. It is its intention to go to award of contracts for the next stage in the spring.

My Lords, the Prime Minister was in charge of this area of responsibility when he was Mayor of London. How much did he put aside for the repair of this bridge?

I am afraid I cannot answer that question because that was many years ago. If I can find out any information, I will write to the noble Lord.