Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park and LibDem spokesperson for Business, Trade and Transport, has shared her view on the proposed funding settlement for Hammersmith Bridge.
On Tuesday (1st June) last week, the latest TfL funding settlement was announced, in which the Government proposed a cost-sharing deal with Hammersmith & Fulham Council (LBHF) and TfL. The Government’s proposal was to draw up a memorandum of understanding between the three parties to fund the reopening of the Bridge – initially to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and, depending on cost, to motor traffic.
Amongst the conditions are that each party pays a share of the cost, with the Government not directly contributing more than one third. A further condition is that the independent Board responsible for the Case for Continued Safe operation, which reports to LBHF, will conduct a new assessment for controlled and limited reopening of the Bridge to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic once further investigations and report validations are completed at the end of this month.
As many of you will have seen, LBHF rejected the deal several hours later, calling the demand unprecedented and criticising the Government’s lack of constructive feedback to its previously submitted proposals.
Overall, while I am very keen for Hammersmith Bridge to reopen to cyclists and pedestrians as soon as possible, it seems clear that there are a number of significant issues relating to the Government’s cost-sharing proposal. By its own admission, nothing can happen until the next stage of investigations and report validations are completed at the end of this month, so its insistence that the Bridge is reopened ASAP is somewhat premature.
One potential outcome of the upcoming reports is that £Xm will be required for Stabilisation works before pedestrians and cyclists can use the Bridge. If that happens, there remains the questions of who will fund this. Will this be part of the 33 per cent committed by the Government, or will LBHF be expected to shoulder it entirely?
Based on LBHF’s response, I am also increasingly concerned as to the extent to which LBHF was consulted about this “tripartite” agreement. If they cannot commit funds, then we stand to make no progress at all.
A further question also remains why the Taskforce did not opt for this in the first instance in autumn last year. Why are we now left with a ferry which, if upcoming Bridge reports come back positive, could soon be unnecessary for large periods of time? How much time and taxpayers’ money has the Government poured into this?
My questions notwithstanding, I am nonetheless grateful to see the Government finally coming to the table to engage constructively with others and provide some kind of indication of what it will be prepared to offer.
I urge all parties involved to continue in this vain so that we can restore the Bridge ASAP. I understand that a Taskforce meeting update should be being released shortly, and I’m hopeful that that will provide a clearer picture of what kind of movement we can hope to see in the coming weeks.
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