London’s bridges are falling down. The Hammersmith Bridge disaster is the embodiment of Labour rule
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BY SERENA LIT
The Hammersmith Bridge has stood for almost two centuries, providing the people of West London a vital crossing point on the Thames. Having been closed to cars since April last year, its closure to all pedestrian, cyclists and river traffic last month was a devastating blow. What was once an iconic structure, synonymous with the area’s cultural identity, is now a poignant metaphor for Labour governance: crumbling, cumbersome and not looking as green as it once did.
Described by the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, as “a key artery in the heart of our capital”, Hammersmith Bridge was used by 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists, 22,000 cars and 24,000 bus passengers daily prior to its closure. Boats have now also been banned from sailing underneath so that engineers can assess the extent of the damage, though it has already become clear that decades of negligence by the Labour controlled Hammersmith & Fulham Council, has compromised its structural integrity by allowing corrosion to spread unchecked.
Its shatter-prone cast iron form is why Hammersmith is the only bridge of its kind in Britain, and one of only two in the world. So, naturally, it has once again fallen on the Conservatives to preserve British heritage. As Nick Ferrari rightly pointed out on LBC, “the Bridge is owned by a local authority that’s Labour controlled, its mostly used by another local authority that is Liberal Democrat controlled and is in a city that has a Labour Mayor- but it falls to [the government] to sort it out.”
Overnight 4,000 pupils have suddenly been forced to travel two hours each way to school, pensioners have had their weekly medical appointments turn into arduous treks and businesses have had their livelihoods jeopardised by the abrupt disappearance of both stock and commuters. Parents have expressed legitimate concerns about the safety of their children now that we are well into Autumn and journeys will soon have to be made in the dark. Perhaps most concerning is that ambulances trying to reach Charing Cross Hospital from areas south of the river are having to take 30-minute detours.
This fiasco is quite literally putting lives at risk.
While Hammersmith Bridge’s problems are especially dire, it is far from the only bridge collapsing in the Capital. Two other major crossings, Vauxhall Bridge and London Bridge, are currently closed to motor vehicles while urgent repairs are carried out. Meanwhile Tower Bridge, yet another city icon, was also closed for two days last month due to a mechanical glitch that resulted in its drawbridge being left jammed open.
Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has chosen to score cheap political points and predictably stuck to his usual mantra of blaming the Conservative government for issues that fundamentally lie within his own remit. It has not only been suggested that the government is afraid to spend on London because it would obscure its “levelling up” message, but also that Boris Johnson himself is deliberately digging in his heels in some bizarre effort to avenge Zac Goldsmith, who represented the area that encompasses Barnes up until last year and had pledged to personally oversee the bridge repairs during his (failed) re-election campaign.
Rather than doing their job or offering any meaningful solution, Hammersmith & Fulham Council has taken the same tack by choosing to scrap £27 million plans to build a temporary bridge, in favour of partnering with the Lib Dem controlled Richmond Council to extract £46 million from the national government, and then subsequently blaming said government for not giving in.
In reality, both local authorities have been well aware of the urgency of the situation and both consciously chose to sit back and wait for someone else to sort out this mess of their own design.
Fully repairing Hammersmith Bridge will cost upwards of £100 million (though the exact figure is unknown), ultimately requiring funds that neither Hammersmith & Fulham Council, nor Transport for London (TFL) which depends on it, currently have. TFL has already had to negotiate a £2 billion bailout from the government this year, both to make up for a shortfall in revenue after the number of daily commuters plummeted during lockdown and to make up for Sadiq Khan’s pursuit of policies that he knew TFL could not afford – including a £640 million loss in fare subsidies for tourists.
Due to several protests and a petition from the local residents let down by inept local authorities, Shapps has now launched a taskforce and hired specialist engineers to deliver a rapid solution in what can only be described as a reluctant government takeover. While frustrated constituents will have to wait 2 years to vote in a more competent local council and another 4 to boot out the ever incompetent Sarah Olney and Andy Slaughter, the entire city goes to the polls next year to choose our next London Mayor.
With Lib-Lab London corroded to the verge of collapse, Conservatives need to get out there and ramp up campaigns, not only to back Bailey, but to boost the odds of every Conservative candidate standing for the GLA.
Our city cannot endure another 4 years of Khan & Co’s lax ‘leadership’ or the next oracular nursery rhyme that comes back to bite may just be London’s burning.
Serena Lit is the YC Chair of Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives. Follow her on twitter: @serena_tara_lit