A bridge too far…..

Hammersmith bridge in all its glory

The Hammersmith bridge saga, makes you wonder who owns and runs all the bridges in London. Well there are 25 Thames bridges crossings that are the responsibility of TfL and London’s boroughs. The ownership and responsibilities for these bridges are set out below.

Bridges owned and maintained by TfL are as follows; 

  • Westminster Bridge • Lambeth Bridge • Vauxhall Bridge • Battersea Bridge • Chiswick Bridge • Kew Bridge • Twickenham Bridge

Bridges owned by the London Boroughs where the bridges structure is maintained by the Bridges House Estates and TfL is responsible for maintaining the carriageway, footway and street furniture;

  • Tower Bridge • London Bridge • Blackfriars Bridge

And finally bridges owned and maintained by London Boroughs include the following: 

  • Golden Jubilee Bridge (Downstream) • Golden Jubilee Bridge (Upstream) • Southwark Bridge • Millennium Bridge • Waterloo Bridge • Chelsea Bridge • Albert Bridge • Wandsworth Bridge • Putney Bridge • Hammersmith Bridge • Richmond Bridge • Kingston Bridge • Teddington Footbridges • Hampton Court Bridge • Lockcut Footbridge

At the end of Ken Livingstone’s time at City Hall, we had the proposed Thames Gateway Bridge linking Beckton in East London with the remote area of Thamesmead, putting them on the map for the first time. But this half a billion project immediately died a death with Boris Johnson new administration even though it had all the approvals to let the contract and would have been operational in 2013.

I dare say that if this bridge had been built, we would also have had no need for Silvertown Tunnel proposal that TfL are now building. As drivers would have got used to going over the bridge and it would have been infinitely better than crossing via a tunnel. 

Little was then heard of bridge proposals in the rest of Boris Johnson time till the Garden Bridge came up towards the end of his second term at City Hall. With a concerted media campaign and influential backers like the Chancellor of Exchequer of the day George Osborne it suddenly drew a lot of attention not dissimilar to other projects like the Emirate cable cars and Arcelormittal Orbit slide which caught the eye of the Mayor.  

In recent correspondence with TfL it has been established that between 2010/11 and 2020/21, TfL invested a total of £42.9m in Thames bridge crossings. It is important to note that these figures do not represent the full cost of works on Thames bridges in the last 10 years because London boroughs may have undertaken works on their Thames bridges beyond the strengthening costs that TfL fund via their Local Implementation Plan (LIP) allocations that TfL make for bridges to local authorities.  

In comparison the failed plan to build a Garden bridge covered with trees and flowers over the River Thames in central London cost a total of £53m, which around £43m came from the public pocket. Incredibly that is more than a decades worth of investment into London bridges from TfL in the previous decade. You can only imagine what could have been done to strengthen bridges like Hammersmith or even start replacing it before it was closed down completely to any traffic!  

What is clear to me is that we need to transfer all the bridges into the ownership of one authority with sole ownership and maintenance in London and begin to see these decision like the Garden Bridge in a lot more strategic perspective then has been done so far since the beginning of this century. 
 
Interestingly this recommendation is not that different to that of one the main jobs for the Metropolitan Board of Works (1855-1889) was to buy up all the London Bridges, free them of tolls, and take charge of maintenance. It is yet another example of history repeating itself.