I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We have just had a debate on Government failure, and this is Government failure 101. Not keeping a major transport route open in our capital city and letting it stay closed for so many years—and who knows how much longer—is a Government failure. They need to step up with the funding, and I will be outlining more information about that.
Hammersmith bridge is a very unusual bridge, and this is why it requires special attention from the Government. It is a grade II listed structure and part of Great Britain’s engineering heritage. It is also one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges, and only five years younger than the Brooklyn bridge in New York. It is unique, having been built out of cast iron, wrought iron and wood. No Government, surely, would allow the Brooklyn bridge to stay closed, so why let Hammersmith bridge do so? It has suffered from over seven decades of deterioration and corrosion. This corrosion, along with the fact that the bridge was designed for the needs of the 19th century, is what makes Hammersmith bridge one of the most expensive bridges in Britain to repair. When warnings of its possible imminent collapse forced its closure, I perfectly understood that the engineers faced huge challenges.
Transport for London has estimated that the repair bill could be between £141 million and £161 million. By comparison, the cost of repairing other Thames bridges is far smaller. For example, Chiswick bridge cost £9 million to repair, and Albert bridge cost £9.7 million. In those cases, Transport for London largely funded the works, paying between 85% and 100% of the costs. The responsible council was not left to foot the bill in the way that Hammersmith and Fulham Council is being asked to do. The bridge is a special case, both historically and financially, and it needs a different funding package from the Government.
Overall, there needs to be a change in bridge policy in London. Lambeth Council has five bridges, but is responsible for none of them. Southwark bridge and London bridge are managed by a trust. Two railway bridges are managed by Network Rail, but Hungerford railway bridge is managed by Westminster. The policy is all over the place. I think it might be time to look at the inequity of bridge responsibilities in London, because it is clear that the system is failing us over Hammersmith bridge. But we are where we are, and there is currently an agreement that the Government, Transport for London and Hammersmith and Fulham Council will fund it.
The Mayor of London has repeatedly sought to meet the Transport Secretary to discuss this and a range of London transport funding issues, but these requests have all been refused. Twenty meetings with Transport for London have been cancelled by the Department for Transport or the Treasury since the last TfL funding deal was agreed. The last time the Transport Secretary and the Mayor of London spoke and discussed Transport for London funding was on 30 May 2021. That is shocking to hear, as Londoners are being let down by this Government. We need them to work with the Mayor, and I hope to hear more of that from the Minister later. We are talking about a national transport route, and the Government must lead the way in funding and reopening it. If a toll is going to be made necessary because the Government will not fund the bridge, has the impact on Putney residents been factored into that business case?
What has Hammersmith and Fulham Council done? Can we say that the buck stops with it? Last November, the council submitted a full business case to the Department for Transport for the stabilisation works, at a cost of £8.9 million, which was £21 million less than the TfL stabilisation plan, so this is a major saving to the taxpayer. To speed up the repair programme, the council decided in December to make the cash available up front, rather than wait for the DFT and TfL governance processes to sign off their shares, as that process is simply too cumbersome. That enabled works to begin several months early. The DFT did not sign off on its one-third share until 22 March this year, many months later, showing that the Government are dragging their feet. The phase 1 stabilisation programme was able to get under way on site in February. It will stop the risk of collapse and prevent future closures to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic, which I, of course, welcome. On 7 March, Hammersmith and Fulham Council signed off a further £3.5 million investment so that it could crack on with all the essential expert studies required to obtain Government and TfL funding through the full business case. That includes essential concept design work, geotechnical studies, crowd loading assessments and traffic modelling. I understand that the council and the DFT officials are working together on completing the business case, but when will that be done? Will funding be ready to go as soon as that is completed and approved, so that we do not have any more delays?
The latest investment of £3.5 million by the council to deliver those essential studies has again been paid for by the council up front, rather than having to wait for the DFT and TfL governance processes to kick in. This signing off of money, at its own risk for the council, in order to expedite bridge works is a situation that the council says cannot continue. I understand that the impasse is now the memorandum of understanding, which would confirm the one shares payable for the council, the DFT and TfL, but that it has not been signed. The latest draft version was sent by the council to the DFT on 14 September 2021, but it has not yet received a response from Ministers or their officials. So I hope that I will not hear, “The buck stops with Hammersmith and Fulham Council” from the Minister again. The Government need to recognise the huge impact of this closure on people in Putney and beyond, and they need to take far more proactive and urgent action.
I shall finish with some questions for the Minister. When is the next meeting of the taskforce? When will Secretary of State sign the memorandum of understanding to enable the next phase of the works to continue as fast as possible? What is the hold-up on that? Has an assessment of the impact of a proposed toll, or of any other financial proposals, on routes through Putney been carried out? Would the Government consider underwriting the full works? When will the building of the temporary bridge start? How long will it take? Is there a deadline from Ministers for the completion of this project, as we would certainly like to see that there is and that it is as soon as possible? I ask again, and I will keep asking, what have the Government done, what will they do and when will Hammersmith bridge reopen?