Council and Mayor Disagree on Hammersmith Bridge Toll

Leader says Sadiq Khan and government must make decision on funding

Hammersmith Bridge. Picture: H&F Council

June 9, 2023

The leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council has said the fate of Hammersmith Bridge is up to Sadiq Khan and the government.

Stephen Cowan said the bridge, which has been shut since 2020, won’t be opened to cars unless £230m is raised to carry out essential repairs.

Councillor Cowan suggested one of the ways to do this was to charge vehicles crossing the bridge and claimed the fate of the Victorian-era bridge lay in the hands of London’s Mayor.

During a council meeting on Monday (5 June), the Labour councillor said, “We are of the view that if you’re going to force us to open up the bridge then it’s going to have to be through a toll and the argument for a toll would be that, if the bridge is going to have a proper maintenance fund for the next 100 years, it needs to probably have its own income line.

“The Mayor of London told us two weeks ago that he’s not supporting a toll. Indeed, I believe there has been some discrepancies in the Mayor’s team, with some believing that the bridge would remain closed and opened for cyclists – some people believe it should be open to cars.”

Cllr Cowan said the broken bridge was a “wider London issue” because many of the traffic problems were impacting residents outside the borough.

He said, “I think it will be up to the Mayor of London to decide what will happen to the bridge, ultimately, because it is a London issue rather than a Hammersmith and Fulham issue. 

“I can tell you no council under any administration has £230m to spend on a bridge or to borrow the money to do it.”

He claimed the council was being asked to cover an ‘unprecedented’ one-third of the repair costs and had already forked out £20m to stabilise the bridge. 

He said a decision on how the bridge will be used while it is out of action for cars won’t be made until stabilisation works finish at the end of summer and comes as plans were submitted for lightweight, electric autonomous shuttles to help people cross the river.

Cllr Cowan said, “This problem is going to remain a problem and I think it’s going to be on others to decide and insist that we spend £230m fixing this bridge or are they going to say that it has another scope for direction – and that’s what’s currently being scoped out.

“The priority at the moment is for us to get the bridge fixed and what happens to it then is going to be a matter for the national government and the Mayor.”

Councillor Cowan described fixing the bridge as “one of the most stressful things” the council has ever dealt with and accused the Tories of turning the issue into a “political football”. 

Addressing a Hammersmith and Fulham Tory councillor at Monday’s meeting, he said, “This is a national embarrassment. It is ridiculous that we have had the bridge closed and that we’ve not had any proper support because it’s being used as a political football. 

“If we could have taken that out – and it was you people who put that in – we’d have, I think, got a lot further, a lot quicker.”

He added, “I have wasted years of my life sitting in ridiculous task force meetings where it ended up with the minister involved ultimately saying this is a problem for Hammersmith and Fulham to fix and quite honestly, I didn’t need to sit in so many meetings to get that from a minister in the first place.”

Engineers have been working on the project since 2020 after cracks were discovered in the bridge along with other major defects in April 2019. The repairs set to take 10 years to complete, according to one report.

Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges, according to Hammersmith and Fulham council. 

It is a Grade II* listed structure made out of wood and wrought iron with the suspension held in place by cast iron pedestals and is part of Britain’s engineering heritage and a national landmark.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council claim they’re being told by the government to pay an “unprecedented” 33pc of the original estimated repair bill which could have normally been paid in large part by Transport for London and the Department for Transport.

A DfT spokesperson said, “LBHF is responsible for decisions regarding repairing and reopening Hammersmith Bridge, but we continue to engage with all relevant parties to find a cost effective solution, and are committed to providing up to one third of repair costs.”

They said decisions around what engineering options are taken and approaches to reopening are made by the council and that reopening the bridge to all users, including motor vehicles, remains a Ministerial priority.

The deputy leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives said, “It is shocking that Cllr Cowan alleged that the Conservative Party is politicising Hammersmith Bridge when it is the Labour Party that have been pursuing an anti-car agenda through (i) the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to cars, (ii) the closure of Wandsworth Bridge, (iii) the ULEZ scheme which punishes the most venerable in London, (iv) traffic schemes without proper consultation, and (v) extortionate parking charges.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor said, “Hammersmith & Fulham Council have been clear that the purpose of a potential charge on the bridge would be to raise revenue to repay the costs of repair works on the bridge, and not to deliver wider transport policy objectives. 

“As such, the appropriate approach to introduce the toll is through a tolling order, which would be managed by the Department for Transport. The Mayor and TfL (Transport for London) are committed to supporting the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge and will continue to work closely with the local council and the Government.” 

Adrian Zorzut - Local Democracy Reporter