River Ferries for School Children Being Considered

Hammersmith & Fulham council seeking to put temporary service in place

Hammersmith Bridge Closed

Children on the school run could be ferried across the Thames in a boat after Hammersmith Bridge was closed to pedestrians and cyclists.

The grade II*-listed crossing was shut last week after cracks in its iron pedestals expanded in the hot weather.

Microfractures were first found during a structural survey in April 2019, which led to a sudden ban on motor vehicles.

With schools due to restart in September, both Labour and Conservative councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) have floated the idea of using boats to help pupils complete the school run.

The Tories say families with children “on the wrong side of the river” are in “absolute panic”.

The council’s ruling Labour group said yesterday (August 19) that it is “seeking to put a temporary ferry in place with local partners, possibly just for school children”.

Council leader Stephen Cowan was said to have met with the Port Authority and others to discuss the idea.

“We’re doing our best to make sure we have something in place and minimise disruption to children during the school term,” the Labour source said.

Transport for London has said it will provide 200 additional buses to support pupils affected by the bridge closure.

But a TfL spokesperson cast doubt on whether a ferry could be viable.

They said: “We have assessed the options for providing a crossing for people walking and cycling, and previously concluded that a ferry would not be appropriate. This is because it would require new piers at a location where at low tide the river is very shallow and therefore they would need to extend a significant distance into the river.”

H&F Council, as well as Richmond Council and the Mayor of London, have long been pressing the Government to provide funding of over £100 million to fix the bridge, which could take three years.

TfL’s proposal for a temporary foot and cycling bridge, to be placed adjacent to the 133-year-old landmark, has also been “paused” due to the transport body’s ongoing financial problems.

The Department for Transport is due to negotiate a funding settlement in October with TfL, which continues to deal with a dire shortfall in fare revenues.

Mr Cowan has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the previous Mayor of London, urging him to stump up the funding, a Labour party source said.

Conservatives have also been calling on TfL and H&F to create a temporary bridge that would be strong enough for motor vehicles. They claim it would “relieve the lives of those affected by the closure and consequent congestion”.

A Labour spokesperson argued this would cost tens of millions to build, and result in “years of litigation including compulsory purchase orders and resisting judicial reviews from people on both sides of the river whose homes would be ruined.”

The Conservative group accuses H&F’s Labour leadership of keeping them in the dark and “avoiding scrutiny” over their plans to fix the bridge.

Conservative group leader, councillor Andrew Brown, said a Freedom of Information request made by Chelsea and Fulham MP Greg Hands, asking the council for copies of structural reports about the bridge’s condition, were refused on “national security grounds”. He labelled this a “farce”.

Mr Brown also alleges that he and other colleagues have been refused meetings with council officers about Hammersmith Bridge.

The Labour source denied both accusations, and said issues around Hammersmith Bridge will be discussed at a September 16 Policy and Accountability Committee.

Mr Brown said: “Residents are utterly sick of the council’s inaction on Hammersmith Bridge…

“This is neither the Bridge over the River Kwai nor Arnhem, but perhaps this issue may be the Labour Administration’s bridge too far.”

Councillor Wesley Harcourt, cabinet member for the environment, said: “Unfortunately, the Conservatives’ approach so far has been to try and take partisan advantage of the Hammersmith Bridge closure, which is at best short-sighted…

“Rather than attacking from the sidelines, we encourage local Conservatives to join with us and lobby the government for the necessary funds.”

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

August 20, 2020