Two expert reports said Hammersmith and Fulham council took a ‘conservative’ approach to assessing the safety of the 133-year-old bridge by deciding to close it to vehicles in April last year and then to walkers. and cyclists in August.
An expert commissioned by the Ministry of Transport said it was “unlikely” that the bridge would suffer a complete collapse.
As a result, the council was urged on Thursday to “review” the partial reopening of the bridge early next year and allow river traffic to pass underneath.
But the council hit back this afternoon saying the government had refused to take legal responsibility for allowing the partial reopening of the bridge under such circumstances – and that progress was being hampered by “political interference.”
Council chief Steve Cowan said if the bridge had collapsed, as his experts feared, it would have been a “national disaster”.
Today’s government announcement also indicates that plans to launch a ferry service from around Easter continue in the event damage to the cast iron structure of the bridge is worse than expected, or in the event of damage to the bridge’s cast iron structure. case it would be closed again at short notice.
Transport Minister Baroness Vere, who chaired a task force to reopen the bridge, said: “Today’s reports indicate that a road leading to the Hammersmith Bridge could be reopened on a limited basis without major work, what I know. locals will be welcome.
“So I call on the council of Hammersmith and Fulham to seriously consider these reports so that we can do good by the people who have been spoiled by the closure of this bridge. Going forward, we remain committed to finding a financing solution for the complete repair of the bridge and its reopening to vehicular traffic. ”
Full repair of the bridge, which is owned by the council, is estimated at £ 141million, and it will take up to seven years before it can reopen to traffic. Full repairs have not started due to ongoing disputes between council, government and Transport for London over funding.
The DfT asked engineering consultants Aecom and Cambridge University Professor Norman Fleck – an expert in fracture mechanics – to review Mott MacDonald’s previous modeling used by the council to close the bridge.
The bridge was completely closed in August after a crack in the northeast pedestal widened from 8cm to 24cm. But new reports say it was unlikely it was caused by the summer heatwave, as feared at the time, and that the crack could be “quite shallow.”
Experts say it may be possible to reopen the bridge once the two western pedestals have been “blast cleaned” to check for any cracks and once additional surveillance equipment is installed.
Knowledge of the condition of the bridge is said to have “improved significantly” since March when the board’s most recent risk assessment was prepared.
The Aecom report said that the growth of the crack in the northeast pedestal between April and August “may not necessarily be related to the high temperatures seen in August” and recommends “that the exact source of the event and the depth of this crack should be studied because it seems probable that the crack is quite shallow ”.
Prof Fleck said a “small amount of money” would “allow immediate corrective action to be taken, regardless of longer-term plans for repairing and strengthening the bridge.”
He added: “In the short term, it would be possible to reopen the bridge quickly and inexpensively for foot traffic provided that steps are taken to stabilize the cast iron plinths.
He said this could be done “without delay, over a period of several weeks and at modest cost”.
Mr Cowan, the Labor leader of the council, said in a statement this afternoon: ‘The suggestion that the bridge could be reopened to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic, with little money spent on the measures. security, has been the government’s constant position within the task force. meetings in recent months. Our response was to ask them if they would take legal responsibility for such a decision, but they always refused to do so.
“The bridge was closed because world-renowned specialist engineers urged the heavily corroded suspension structure to face catastrophic failure. If the bridge had collapsed, as they said, it would have been a national disaster.
“Our constant advice to government has been to listen to the expert engineers on the Continued Case for Safe Operation (CCSO) board of directors who are constantly examining these issues to protect public safety.
“The government task force met today at 11 am. However, its members only received articles that included the first view of the Fleck and Aecom reports at 10:23 a.m. today and after the media reports came out. It is fair to say that a number of task force members questioned the chair of the government task force Baroness Vere about the professionalism of sending documents so late while getting the story out to the media. well in advance.
“During the task force meeting, government advisers confirmed that the government released the Fleck and Aecom reports before waiting to consider the looming findings of engineers Mott MacDonald who are undertaking the latest review. They also did not submit their own papers to the CCSO. It seems to be subject to political interference – something that has consistently hampered progress.
“We learned that the Fleck report was concluded on November 6, 2020 and that the Aecom document was launched on September 30, completed on November 26 and released on December 4. No explanation was given as to why these reports were not provided to the OSAC or the working group prior to today.
“Hammersmith & Fulham will continue to seek all possible means to have the bridge safely reopened, but will never take a decision contrary to the advice of specialist engineers that there is a serious risk to the lives of tens of thousands of pedestrians. , cyclists, drivers of motor vehicles and river traffic who have used or traveled under the bridge each week. ”
Tony Devenish, Conservative London Assembly member for West Central, said: ‘Hammersmith and Fulham Labor Council must listen to this new expert advice and give themselves the best possible chance to quickly reopen the bridge to cyclists and pedestrians . Londoners can no longer afford to procrastinate and they must open this vital passage.
“While reopening the Hammersmith Bridge to pedestrians and cyclists would be a big step forward, council cannot forget the enormous disruption caused by the closure of vehicles.
“Londoners cannot wait more than six years for repairs to allow buses, emergency vehicles and traffic to cross the Thames between Hammersmith and Barnes. The council should also seriously consider and help fund a temporary road bridge. ”