Council meeting welcomes new taskforce but Minister criticised for 'broken promises'
More than one thousand children are struggling to get to school due to the closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
At last Tuesday night’s meeting of Richmond Council (22 September), councillors discussed the newly formed taskforce headed by Baroness Vere to work towards reopening the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, before moving on to enable the return of motor traffic.
However, Cllr Penny Frost, chair of the council’s children’s committee, expressed concern about the impact the bridge’s closure has had on children.
She said 44 children from Hammersmith and Fulham attend schools in Richmond, and 178 children in Richmond attend community schools and academies on the other side of the river in Hammersmith and Fulham.
“We’ve got numbers of youngsters attending independent schools on either side of the borough,” she added.
“St Paul’s School in Barnes reckons that 900 children are affected. Harrodian thinks 400 are affected. We need to bear in mind that there are actual problems which are caused by this bridge and that they are affecting lives on both sides of the bridge.”
Transport Lead, Cllr Alexander Ehmann, proposed a motion for welcoming the formation of the taskforce and thanked local residents, local MP Sarah Olney, the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Caroline Pidgeon AM.
However he expressed “regret” at “Grant Shapps MP’s refusal to fund ‘Shovel Ready’ repair schemes to the main structure and his failure to honour his promise to residents to fund the temporary bridge”.
Cllr Ehmann said, “While we welcome the formation of a taskforce I am becoming concerned day by day about the lack of formal commitment to any specific endeavours […] I have concerns that things are not going so fast as our residents would ask.”
This caused uproar amongst the Conservative councillors.
Cllr Gemma Curran said she was “disappointed” that Cllr Ehmann started his speech about working cross-party but that his motion proved the opposite.
She said, “Whilst they congratulate themselves and praise Hammersmith and Fulham it remains that since April 2019 there has not been a functioning bridge.”
She added, “It is fact that only since the bridge has been closed to pedestrians and cyclists that this administration with Hammersmith and Fulham have woken up to the problems residents have been frustrated about since April last year.”
Citing issues with “constant streams of deadlocked traffic” and disabled and elderly residents who have been “forgotten” she criticised the motion for “seeking to score political points”.
The motion was passed along party lines, with the leading Liberal Democrat administration voting in favour, while the Conservatives opposed the motion.
Green councillor Andree Frieze abstained, but fellow Greens Cllr Saunders and Cllr Bennett voted in favour.
Hammersmith & Fulham council, which owns the bridge, says it will cost £141 million to complete a full repair but £46 million to be able to reopen it safely to pedestrians.
Speaking about the formation of the taskforce earlier this month, Hammersmith and Fulham council leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, said, “There is an urgency to tackling this issue, so while Transport for London (TfL), Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond councils will play a full part in the government’s taskforce, we must avoid an empty talking shop. Only the government has the financial resources to fix this bridge. Ministers must urgently commit to funding the necessary repairs.”
Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter
September 23, 2020