Hammersmith Bridge – all you need to know and latest updates

Hammersmith Bridge is one of the world’s oldest mechanical suspension bridges. It is a Grade II* listed structure made out of wood and wrought iron with the 19th century suspension held in place by cast iron pedestals.

It is part of this country’s engineering heritage and a national landmark. 

Included on this page

The re-opening in July 2021

The bridge reopened to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic on Saturday 17 July following the expert advice from the CCSO safety engineers.

Announcing the move, H&F Leader Cllr Stephen Cowan said: “The potential for catastrophic collapse of this 134-year-old suspension structure was very real. We’ve employed the best engineers from around the world who advised we had to close the bridge last summer. We will always put the safety of the public first.

“Ever since, I have been determined to re-open the bridge as soon as it was safely possible. The introduction of the temperature control system, and the results of our extensive engineering investigations, now mean that the bridge can be opened for use by pedestrians, cyclists and to river traffic.”

VIDEO: Cllr Stephen Cowan reflects on the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge

Stabilisation plan for the bridge

Within a month of its reopening, H&F announced that it had approved a new £6m plan to stabilise Hammersmith Bridge – £24m below the original expected cost with works completing in under a year.

The council’s specialist engineers Mott MacDonald devised the alternative stabilisation plan and was chosen to replace the existing Pell Frischmann scheme.

Announcing the plan, Cllr Cowan said: “We don’t want to lose a single day in delivering the full stabilisation of the bridge to ensure residents on both sides of the river no longer have to deal with closures or the threat of closures. Whilst putting the safety of the public first, we believe that the importance of maintaining pace and progress, the real savings achieved by the deployment of the preferred stabilisation works option and the current vulnerability of Hammersmith Bridge demands rapid action.”

The closure and re-opening of Hammersmith Bridge

Before the bridge was partially reopened on 17 July 2021, the 134-year-old Grade II*-listed Hammersmith Bridge had been fully closed from 13 August 2020 to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic for safety reasons.

Black and white photo of a horse and cart crossing Hammersmith Bridge
Image caption: A horse and cart with passengers crossing Hammersmith Bridge during the Victorian era

In the preceding hours new sensors positioned throughout the suspension structure alerted engineers to a rapid and sudden increase in the size of dangerous micro-fractures in the cast iron pedestals that hold the suspension system in place.

The heatwave was the most likely cause. The micro-fractures were first discovered in 2019 using the latest technology. Cast iron is brittle and can shatter. The micro-fractures therefore posed the serious risk that the bridge could suddenly, and with little warning, collapse into the Thames.

Up until 10 April 2019, Hammersmith Bridge carried 22,000 motor vehicles a day. Up until 13 August 2020, hundreds of boats travelled underneath it and 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists travelled across it each day.

How did this happen?

Engineers employed by Hammersmith & Fulham Council discovered that the microfractures are a consequence of decades of unchecked corrosion that is riddled throughout the suspension structure.

Hammersmith Bridge at dusk with electric lighting switched on
Image caption: Hammersmith Bridge at dusk

These very serious problems only began to be discovered from 2015 onwards because in 2014, the current administration commissioned a Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review – the first in the bridge’s history. Prior to that, only £250,000 had been spent touching up the decking and other minor works.

The council and Transport for London employed some of the best engineers in the world and tasked them with fully diagnosing all the problems with Hammersmith Bridge and developing a plan to make it safe and fit for purpose. The engineers have huge experience including working on the Golden Gate Bridge in California and on oil rigs in the North Sea.

‘Shovel-ready’ plans to fix the bridge

The engineers had previously advised that it would cost £46m to stabilise Hammersmith Bridge and make it safe for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic; up to £141m to fully restore the bridge so it can be reopened to buses and motor vehicles; and £163m if we wished to reduce the three-year timescale by as much as 12 months.

No council has that sort of money available. Over the last 18 months, TfL has made a series of bids to government for funding of the Hammersmith Bridge works which have all be rejected. On 24 August 2020, the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Cllr Stephen Cowan and Cllr Gareth Roberts, Leader of Richmond Council, sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister asking for the government’s financial support.

Original Bazalgette architectural drawing showing sections of Hammersmith Bridge
Image caption: Bazalgette original architectural drawing of the north west pedestal illustrating the location of micro-fractures

The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce

Following the letter to the Prime Minister, on 9 September 2020 the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps announced he was setting up a government taskforce, which would take over the project and work up solutions. Members of the taskforce include Cllr Cowan, the Deputy London Mayor for Transport for London, the CEO of the Port of London Authority, the Leader of Richmond Council and respective officials. It is chaired by Baroness Vere of Norbiton who is a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport. The project director is Dana Skelley.

Drawing of the new temporary double-decker crossing within the existing structure of Hammersmith Bridge
Image caption: CGI of the new temporary double-decker crossing

H&F, Foster + Partners/COWI propose temporary double-decker crossing 

An innovative proposal from world leading engineers could see Hammersmith Bridge re-opened three years earlier than planned, with a cost saving of £40m.

The double-decker solution from globally renowned architects and engineers Foster + Partners and specialist bridge engineers COWI would see a temporary truss laid over the existing carriageway allowing cars and buses to cross.

  • Read more on the proposed temporary double-decker crossing plans

    The plan was developed after the bridge’s full closure in August 2020. H&F Leader Cllr Stephen Cowan approached the private sector to seek radical solutions. In response, property developer Sir John Ritblat asked Foster + Partners and COWI to develop proposals.

    It offers the prospect of the bridge being re-opened all traffic within 12 months at a cost of around £100m – £40m less than the current proposal.

    The temporary truss would enable the current structure to be renovated off-site, potentially providing a quicker and more cost-effective full restoration solution.

    A detailed feasibility study commissioned by H&F has now confirmed that the existing foundations could support the extra load of the temporary truss and that the significant savings could be made.

    Elements of the bridge that need repair, including the decking, would be lifted away using the temporary bridge as a works platform and transported by barges to an off-site facility for safe repair and restoration.

    Historic England, which has been already been involved in discussions about the plan, will need to approve the works which enable the bridge to be restored to its original Victorian splendour with fewer constraints.

    According to the feasibility report, provided planning and procurement is in place by the end of this year, the bridge could reopen for pedestrians and cyclists by the summer of 2022 and motor vehicles two months later.  The full restoration could be completed in 2023, three years earlier than the current proposal.

Funding the repair and restoration

On 19 February 2021, in response to a request from the Secretary of State for Transport, H&F submitted an outline financial plan to the Department for Transport (DfT). The 108-page report detailed funding and future governance options for Hammersmith Bridge, including toll and road charging proposals, to provide the best value for local and national taxpayers. As of 23 June 2021, no response had yet been received from the department. H&F continues to develop this work.                                            

On 1 June 2021, it was announced by the Government that, as part of its latest funding and financing package for Transport for London (TfL), the DfT, TfL and H&F hope to develop a Memorandum of Understanding in relation to the funding of the project. Each party would agree to pay a share of the cost. Repair costs are to be led by H&F and TfL, with the Government contributing one-third of the costs.

At the Government Taskforce meeting of 3 June 2021, it was noted that the advice of engineers commissioned by H&F and TfL is still being developed, and agreed it is important to conclude which option will determine the way forward by the end of the month. This work is ongoing.

The Taskforce was informed that no borough council has ever paid 33 per cent of repair works for any London bridges. H&F had already committed £8.6m. Historically, TfL has paid 85 per cent for repair works on London bridges owned by borough councils.

As Hammersmith Bridge is exceptional in being one of the world’s oldest mechanical suspension bridges and one of the most expensive bridges to repair and maintain in the United Kingdom, H&F questioned why any further contribution should be required in such circumstances – let alone a baseless and unprecedented 33 per cent.

    Further information

    Q&As – all you need to know

    Here are some facts that will explain what has happened with the 133-year-old suspension bridge, why major works are necessary and what H&F is doing to mitigate the impact of the closure.

    All links in the following Q&As open in a new window or tab.

    • Why did the bridge close for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic in August 2020?

      On safety grounds. On 13 August 2020 new sensors positioned throughout the bridge alerted engineers to a rapid and sudden increase in the size of dangerous micro-fractures in the cast iron pedestals that hold the 19th century suspension structure in place.

      Cracks in the pedestals under Hammersmith Bridge
      Image caption: Micro-factures in the north west and south west pedestals under Hammersmith Bridge

      Cast iron is brittle and can shatter and the expansion of the micro-fractures posed the serious risk that the bridge could suddenly and with little warning collapse, so on urgent safety grounds it had to be closed to all users, including river traffic.

    • Why did the bridge close to vehicles last year?

      In April 2019, hairline micro-fractures in the bridge’s pedestals were first discovered by the council’s specialist engineers using the latest technology, prompting the council to close the bridge to vehicles on safety grounds.

      The engineers discovered that the microfractures are a consequence of decades of unchecked corrosion that is riddled throughout the suspension structure. These very serious problems were only revealed because, in 2014, the administration commissioned a Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review – the first in the bridge’s history.

    • What is the Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review?

      The current administration commissioned a Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review (CSIR) of the bridge in 2014, the first in its history, with the objective of understanding if the bridge was structurally sound. As part of the review, the council hired a team of world class specialist engineers, started weekly safety inspections and installed hi-tech sensors all over the bridge to check if stresses were causing structural damage.

      The review, likened to peeling back an onion, revealed elements of the bridge that hadn’t been uncovered since it was built. These investigations revealed the extent of structural problems with the bridge – its natural and necessary flexibility had become compromised, causing critical fractures in the pedestals that anchor the bridge into the ground.

      Based on the engineer’s reports and the findings of the CSIR, a comprehensive and enduring repair plan has been drawn up and is ready for implementation, pending funding.

    • What will it cost to repair?

      As the council’s CSIR peeled back different parts of this unique structure, new, complex and often dangerous failures were revealed, pushing up restoration costs.

      Specialist engineers have put together comprehensive plans to fix the 133-year-old bridge. It will cost £46m to stabilise it, which will make it safe for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic. It will cost £141m to fully restore the bridge so it can be reopened to buses and motor vehicles – a similar amount to building a new bridge. A quicker option could cost up to £163m.

    • Who will pay for it?

      The bridge can be fixed, the plans are ready and work could start immediately. Securing the necessary funds to pay for this major infrastructure project is less straight forward.

      The estimated cost simply to make the bridge safe and avoid a potential catastrophic failure, is £46m. No council has that kind of money available, even before the multi-million pounds cost of the coronavirus pandemic.

      Hammersmith Bridge is a strategically important river crossing and a main London transport artery. TfL has made a series of bids to government for the funding of the Hammersmith Bridge works which have all been rejected. The Leaders of Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond Councils have also asked for the government’s financial support.

      Only the government and the private sector has the sort of sums needed. The taskforce is exploring funding options. The council will not be asking residents of H&F to contribute to the cost.

    • Could H&F use its reserves to pay for the bridge?

      No. The reserves are critical to ensuring that the council is in a position at all times to maintain its hundreds of statutory duties and services to residents including protecting children at risk of abuse, providing care to the elderly and disabled, maintaining roads and parks, collecting refuse, tackling homelessness and keeping libraries open.

      Our general fund reserves currently total £80m. In addition, a reserves balance of £50m is ring-fenced for the housing revenue account and £10m is held for schools. Our reserves are below average among London councils.

      Of the general fund reserves, the council’s general balance of £19m is required to cover unforeseen financial risks and provide cover for unexpected or unavoidable additional costs. This is agreed each year as part of the budget strategy.  Of the remaining balance of earmarked reserves of £61m, £27m of these are already committed.

      Since 2010, our annual revenue budget from government has been cut by £67m, and, as of November, we were we looking at a predicted £13.7m Covid shortfall between what the government pledged to help and what it has delivered.

      Our last external audit findings report commented: “The council’s reserves level is of concern as there doesn’t appear to be sufficient cushion to weather the ongoing financial challenges that the council will face over the medium term due to reductions in central government funding and forecast pressures of the Dedicated Schools Grant funding.”

      As a financially efficient council, we will not imperil our reserves against auditors’ advice. We have a duty to residents to keep the council on a firm financial footing.

    • Doesn’t the council lend out millions in loans?

      We work hard in H&F to effectively manage our finances. This includes short-term, low-risk lending which generates funds to re-invest in frontline services. Our financial efficiency has allowed us to keep council tax low while improving services for residents.

      An inaccurate news story in May 2020 claimed that H&F was lending “lending half a billion” to other local authorities, during 2018/19. This story, based on an aggregate of loans without taking into account their return, was false and has since been corrected.

      The total sum available for the council to invest includes not just reserves but other cash balances such as capital receipts and specific grant balances.

      At the end of 2019, we had £154.5m loaned out to other local authorities which included a £90m capital receipt from the previous administration’s Conditional Land Sale Agreement with a property developer for the sale of 750 council homes at the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. This was money held by the council that could not be spent on other areas until the estates were fully handed over to the developers. Ultimately, the money was used to buy back the estates following the successful campaign to protect the homes of residents from speculators.

      As of December 2020, we have £17m loans out with local authorities, a very small amount compared to many other local authorities.

    • What is the purpose of the new Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce?

      Following council requests for the government’s urgent constructive engagement and financial support, on 9 September 2020, the government announced a Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce which would take over the project and work up solutions. The taskforce’s remit includes reviewing Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s proposed stabilisation and repair scheme and exploring funding options for the repair of the bridge and for temporary solutions. The council welcomes the government’s engagement. Read updates from the taskforce on this page.

      Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and Cllr Gareth Roberts, the Leader of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, attend the taskforce, which is chaired by Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, and includes representatives from Transport for London, the Department of Transport, and the Port of London Authority. The Project Director is Dana Skelley OBE.

      Cllr Cowan has asked the taskforce to make an early commitment on funding, which is crucial to progressing repair and mitigation work.

    • Is a temporary ferry a viable option?

      Dana Skelley, the Project Director of the Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce, said in a statement: “The Taskforce agreed a ferry service across the river would be the preferred transport solution to deliver a crossing for residents in the short-term and we are working quickly to have a service in place by early next year.” TfL is conducting the procurement for this.

      To speed things up as much as possible, Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond Councils and the Port of London Authority have committed to fast-tracking elements of the process for which they are responsible, with passenger safety as the paramount issue. Several parties have already expressed interest in running a service.

      As soon a ferry operator is appointed by TfL following its procurement process, H&F will consider carefully any planning application for its preferred landing site on our side of the river.

    • What about building a temporary road bridge?

      Contrary to misleading claims, a temporary road bridge could not be built for £7m in three months. This proposal has been discarded by Transport for London engineers on the grounds of cost, timescale and feasibility.

      The required permission for a temporary bridge from the Port of London Authority is also contingent on all the funding for the complete repair of the bridge being already in place before work on a temporary bridge could start.

      Without the financing in place for the permanent repair, the option of any kind of temporary bridge is not available.

    • Why not just take it down and build a new one?

      The bridge is protected by Historic England. It is a Grade II Listed heritage asset meaning it is a 'particularly important' national structure of 'more than special interest'. Despite its problems, Hammersmith Bridge is a beautiful Victorian structure and a unique part of Britain’s pioneer engineering heritage. Furthermore, the cost of building a new bridge would be similar to the repair of the current bridge.

    • What is the council doing to help school children deal with the disruption?

      More than 1,000 school children from several London boroughs have experienced disruption to their journeys to school. The disruption is especially acute for students and teachers living in the borough of Richmond but is also impacts students from across west and southwest London who attend schools on both sides of the Thames.

      At Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s request TfL has doubled the number of buses. Hammersmith & Fulham Council has also asked TfL to explore the provision of a bespoke point-to-point coach system for school children. Hammersmith & Fulham Council is exploring using school marshals and 'walking buses' to assist children walking to school and back if necessary.

      The council has carried out a full lighting audit of all alternative walking routes and is confident they are all well-lit. Where Hammersmith & Fulham Council has responsibility for SEN travel assistance this is being provided.

    • What else is being done to mitigate the disruption?

      Hammersmith & Fulham Council is working closely and constructively with the MPs for Hammersmith, Richmond Park, Putney, and Brentford and Isleworth, with TfL, the Mayor of London, with Richmond Council, the PLA and the government’s Taskforce to coordinate our joint mitigation efforts.

      At our request, TfL has reorganised buses in the area to ensure that residents still have a connected public transport network while the bridge remains closed. It has also enhanced its Dial-a-Ride services to provide another option for people with impaired mobility whose journeys might have been affected by the closure.

      TfL has added a series of alternative bus routes for Hammersmith Bridge:

      • Extra services on Route 533 (Hammersmith Bus Station - Lonsdale Road), increasing the frequency Monday to Friday from two to four buses an hour.
      • Extra services on Route 378 (Mortlake Bus Station – Putney Bridge Station), increasing the frequency Monday to Saturday during the day from five to eight buses per hour.


      TfL has extended its Dial-a-Ride scheme to help residents with mobility needs who live near Hammersmith Bridge. For more details, read our Dial-a-Ride news story.

      If you have any questions about the repair works, please call TfL on 0343 222 1234. (Charges apply - calls from landlines are typically charged between 2p and 10p per minute and calls from mobiles typically cost between 10p and 40p per minute. Connection charges may apply.)

    • What's so special about Hammersmith Bridge?

      Hammersmith Bridge was the first suspension bridge built over the Thames. Designed by the noted 19th century civil engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, it was built in 1887.

      Opened by the Prince of Wales in June 1887, Hammersmith Bridge is a complex feat of Victorian engineering built using a combination of cast iron, wrought iron and 999 individual wooden plates. It features structural copulas and seven crests. It's also London’s lowest bridge, with a water clearance of just 12 feet at high tide, and one of the capital’s weakest bridges, which is why weight restrictions have been in place since 2015.

      Hammersmith Bridge has been bombed three times – by the IRA in 1939, by the Provisional IRA in 1996, and by the Real IRA in 2000.

      The bridge is one of London’s most iconic structures and features in many films.

    • Who is responsible for fixing the bridge?

      The bridge is a Grade II Listed heritage asset meaning it is a 'particularly important' national structure of 'more than special interest'.

      Ownership of the bridge was passed to Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 1985 after the abolition of the GLC. When the current administration launched its Comprehensive Structural Integrity Review in 2014, it revealed that the bridge had been poorly maintained for decades. The Council is currently paying £2.7m a year simply to stop additional and dangerous deterioration.

      Hammersmith Bridge is London icon and a vital part of London’s strategic transport system and major North South arterial route, which is why Transport for London (TfL) has been project managing the restoration of the bridge since 2015.

    • Who uses the bridge?

      The bridge was built for horses, carts and penny farthings. Until 2015, when the council limited the number of buses, the bridge was used by 22,000 cars and 1,800 buses every day.

      Up until 13 August 2020, hundreds of boats travelled underneath and 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists travelled across it each day including more than 1,000 school children from several London boroughs.

      The bridge is a main artery connecting the north and south sides of the Thames and a vital river crossing for residents in neighbouring boroughs on both sides of the Thames, and for London as a whole.

    • When will it reopen?

      Clearly safety comes first. Closing the bridge was the right thing to do. Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Transport for London are committed to re-opening the bridge and restoring it to its former Victorian splendour as soon as possible. It is a complex and highly-skilled job.

      It is also Grade II Listed, which makes its restoration even more complex.

      Work to stabilise the bridge will take nine months. The full restoration of the bridge will take three to four years.

    • Will the bridge look the same once it's reopened?

      The bridge will be fully restored to its former glory and, once restored, will look better than it does today.

      As well as repairing its structural issues, its road surface will be renovated to ensure the surface is smooth and fit for purpose. In addition, the original electric lights will be replaced with LED light bulbs. Although the LED light bulbs will look the same they will cut energy use by 50 per cent.

    • What about emergency vehicles?

      There have been emergency service contingency plans in place long before the bridge was closed. Hammersmith & Fulham Council is in regular dialogue with all emergency service providers.

    Videos

    Mott McDonald report documents

    Plans for a ferry

    Press and media coverage

    Letters

    Freedom of information requests

    Before submitting a Freedom of Information request regarding Hammersmith Bridge, you might consider reviewing the disclosure log.