28 July 2021

The closure of Hammersmith Bridge – and the delay to repairs – raises concerns for other historic bridges and waterways heritage structures.

In May, IWA joined the Company of Watermen & Lightermen of the River Thames to call for unrestricted navigation under Hammersmith Bridge to be allowed at the earliest possible date, in a letter to the transport minister, Baroness Vere.

Following on from Baroness Vere’s response, the bridge reopened to cyclists, pedestrians and all boat traffic in mid-July. However, traffic signals are still in operation and will prevent river passage if sensors on the bridge detect a problem.

The closure highlights the importance of long-term funding for repairs and maintenance of historic bridges and other heritage infrastructure. Many of the 200- to 250-year-old heritage assets of the waterways system are at risk from ongoing lack of funding. Similarly, higher summer temperatures from climate change will continue to increase that risk, particularly for heritage structures made of iron.

Likewise, responsibility to maintain waterways heritage structures can often fall inbetween several different agencies with room for dispute. For Hammersmith Bridge, the Department for Transport announced it is willing to pay a third of the cost of reopening the bridge, expecting Transport for London and Hammersmith & Fulham Council to also pay a third. The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce are currently reviewing options for how the bridge repairs will be funded.

Hammersmith Bridge project updates

Heritage structures at risk

Other historic bridges needing repair have had similar funding problems. Iron Bridge, over the River Severn, had repairs following an English Heritage crowd-funding campaign, along with a German not-for-profit grant.

Union Chain Bridge is a heritage suspension bridge spanning the border between England and Scotland. In this case, multiple agencies put together the successful National Lottery Heritage Fund bid.

Other historic iron bridges on the Heritage at Risk Register include Mythe Bridge, over the River Severn at Tewkesbury.