Minister Wants Hammersmith Bridge Open to 'All Forms of Traffic'

But Huw Merriman says final decision is down to the council

April 9, 2024

Transport Minister Huw Merriman has said the Government wants to see Hammersmith Bridge reopened to ‘all forms of traffic’, after campaigners made their latest call to repurpose the crossing and ban motor vehicles.

Mr Merriman however added the decision will ultimately be made by the owner of the bridge, Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The local authority says on its website that the crossing will be ‘fully reopened to cars, buses and motorcyclists’ following further repair works, which will need to be part-funded by a toll.

Hammersmith Bridge has been shut to motor vehicles since 2019, when micro-fractures were discovered in its pedestals. It has since been reopened to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic.

Earlier this Monday (April 8), the Government announced it is providing £2.9 million for a new cycle lane on the bridge. Hammersmith and Fulham installed a temporary lane in February, though this is due to be removed in the next month or so.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Mr Merriman said: “We’re very pleased to be able to assist when it comes to the new cycling provisions. We saw that opportunity and we said that we would fund it and we look forward to that being opened in the time to come.”

The closure of the bridge to motor vehicles means that drivers needing to cross the river must either use Putney Bridge to the east, or Chiswick Bridge to the west. Since the crossing has shut, the council has sunk more than £30m into maintaining it and preparing it for further works, with the Government also investing £13m.

Progress has stalled however, with the Government yet to approve a business case submitted by the local authority last year. Hammersmith and Fulham says it will need to introduce a toll if it is to fund its share of the estimated £250m bill, which the Government wants to split three ways between the council, Transport for London (TfL) and national taxpayers. Mr Merriman said it is down to the local authority as to how it pays for that cost, whether via a toll or other means.

He added, “Obviously the bridge is owned by Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council, so it’s their bridge. We’re working with the borough and the Transport for London team to find a longer term solution which will allow traffic to be able to utilise the bridge. And that’s currently a work in progress. But in the meantime we wanted to do our bit to allow those that can still use the bridge during this time to do so, and that’s where this cycling investment has come from.”

Asked why the Government has yet to approve the council’s business case, Mr Merriman said he recognises it is a long process, though that it is being reviewed. “It’s a very complex and challenging one, and also particularly because it’s not an asset that’s owned by Government, it’s owned by the borough,” he said. “But it’s obviously important we look at the strengthening proposals with governance and oversight and ensure what’s being proposed actually works and it can be funded.”

The current cycle lane is temporary and may be closed before summer

Hammersmith's Labour MP Andy Slaughter said, "Hammersmith & Fulham Council has spent £30 million strengthening the Bridge and re-opening it to foot and cycle traffic, including the current temporary cycle lane. They requested funding from DfT to help resurface the carriageway and make the cycle lane permanent, and the £2.9 million will contribute to this. It is shameful however that this sum is little more than 1% of the total cost of repairing the Bridge and returning it to its former use. Ministers have been refusing to meet local MPs, including myself and Ruth Cadbury, for 18 months to discuss the Bridge and they refused my request that some of the billions released from the cancellation of HS2 north of Birmingham be spent on this project."

He believes that the bridge would have been fully reopened already if the government had applied the same funding rules it adopts for major road schemes around the country.

It is not just the closure of the Grade-II* listed crossing which has ignited debate, but also its future use once it is reopened. While many want things to return to as they were, carrying motor vehicles as well as pedestrians and other forms of active travel, others want a rethink. The Green Party’s London mayoral candidate, Zoë Garbett, recently described the bridge as working ‘by accident’, and said it should not be given back to drivers.

Jakub Mamczak, Senior Campaigns Officer at the London Cycling Campaign, previously said the group urges ‘Hammersmith and Fulham Council, the Government and TfL to, instead of spending huge sums to enable more driving while we’re in a climate crisis, to move to a plan for active travel and public transport and not using Hammersmith Bridge ever again for private motor vehicles’.

Asked for the Government’s stance, Mr Merriman said, “We would like to see the bridge returned to all forms of traffic that used it previously. We’re certainly aware of the impact on congestion, because motor vehicles can no longer use the bridge. But obviously the decisions in terms of the bridge and how it would be utilised and when are ultimately down to the owner, as it would be for any decision-making situations.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council was approached, but had not responded at the time of publication. The current temporary cycle lane was opened after a party boat carrying West Ham fans crashed into the bridge, damaging the gantry. Hammersmith and Fulham Council said the repair costs totalled around £100,000.

Ben Lynch - Local Democracy Reporter