Hammersmith Bridge has been closed to pedestrians and cyclists after safety inspectors found cracks in the 133-year-old structure had worsened following the recent heatwave.
The total closure came into effect with little warning at 5pm on Thursday, 16 months after road traffic was banned from the suspension bridge following the discovery of “critical” safety faults.
Boats will be unable to pass under the Grade II* listed structure, which is used by up to 16,000 people a day, while walkways underneath the bridge on the banks of the Thames have also be closed.
A statement from Hammersmith and Fulham council read: “Hammersmith Bridge will be closed to pedestrians and river traffic from 5pm today (13 August) because of an increased risk to public safety due to a sudden deterioration in key parts of the suspension structure.
“Specialist engineers have been undertaking 24/7 monitoring of the structural integrity of the bridge throughout using an extensive network of sensors on the 19th century structure.
“The deterioration in the structure was exacerbated by the recent heatwave which caused cracks to significantly increase – despite measures taken to mitigate the heat.
“The bridge will remain closed until the engineers are confident that it is safe to re-open to pedestrians and river traffic.
“It means that pedestrians and cyclists must now cross the river elsewhere, while all river traffic under the bridge will also be stopped – including the pedestrian walkways under Hammersmith Bridge – while engineers examine the extent of the damage.”
The move severs the link between Hammersmith and Barnes, with the nearest river crossing almost two miles away at Barnes Bridge.
Councillor Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council said: “Safety is the number one priority. I’m absolutely sure that we averted a catastrophe by closing this 19th century suspension bridge to motor vehicles last year.
“We have some of the best engineers in the world working on this scheme. They advise we now face a similar dilemma.
“I appreciate how inconvenient this will be to thousands of people on both sides of the river and I am sorry about that, but we must follow the engineers’ advice which is why the bridge will be closed with immediate effect today.
“We will update everyone as soon as engineers have investigated the scale of the recent damage. I have instruced them to find a plan to safely reopen it as quickly as they can.”
The bridge was closed “indefinitely” to road traffic, including a number of bus routes, in April 2019 after a routine safety inspection unearthed micro fractures in the cast-iron casings around the bridge pedestals.
At the time the bridge had been due to to undergo a full refurbishment following previous temporary closures for maintenance, and the traffic ban touched off a row about who should pay for repairs.
After engineers estimated it would cost £120 million and take three years to strengthen the Grade II* listed structure, Transport for London provided £25 million for preparatory repair work.
But after City Hall and councillors on both sides of the river called on the Government for financial support, Conservative MP Greg Hands told them to “get a grip”.
Despite the funding row, in February this year Hammersmith council said that there had been “good progress” on the repair work. But the financial hammer blow of the coronavirus crisis has since plunged the project into doubt.
And this month New Civil Engineer reported that Hammersmith Bridge had not been included on a list of “shovel-ready” projects eligible for a £1.3 billion infrastructure funding pot announced by Boris Johnson.
Councillor Alexander Ehmann, Chair of the Transport and Air Quality Services Committee for Richmond Council, said: “We fully support the decision to close Hammersmith Bridge on safety measures. Safety must come first.
“Richmond Council believes that the safety of all residents must be our number one priority.
“However, what was urgent before is now an emergency. A critical piece of London’s infrastructure cannot be allowed to crumble into the Thames, while the Government and London Mayor wrangle over responsibility for the funding.
“With a potential repair bill of £140m, the Government are the only credible funding mechanism. They must now act in the public interest and supply the long-overdue funding to ensure the bridge can be saved.”
Plans for a £5 million temporary crossing for pedestrians and cyclist have also floundered in recent months, although could be revived in the wake of the latest closure.
A Mayor of London spokesperson said: “Public safety must always come first, so we fully support the council’s decision to close Hammersmith Bridge based on expert technical advice.
“We understand that this will be disappointing news to many and this latest setback demonstrates the urgent need for Government to provide the critical funding necessary to progress repairs and enable the bridge to fully reopen as soon as possible.”