Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Hammersmith Flyover: calm down dears!


Much sound and fury accompanied the drumroll to what was forecast to be a devastating BBC "expose", broadcast last night, of the risks taken with reckless abandon by Transport for London with our lives and limbs over the Hammersmith flyover, which was shut last year because of concerns over corrosion of the steel cables within the concrete structure.

Last night's BBC Inside Out programme revealed, apparently, that TfL had known about the possibility of the structure collapsing for a month before it closed the bridge, prompting Andy Slaughter to ask dramatically: "did TfL risk our lives"? 


Other politicians followed suit with Lib Dem Leader on the London Assembly Caroline Pidgeon arguing that: 
"There is a strong case that this information should always have been in the public domain. It is regrettable that such vital information had to be dragged out of Transport for London. Serious questions also have to be answered as to whether they took all the necessary precautionary steps over this vital bridge."
By all means ask those questions, but as it turned out the BBC programme was a bit of a damp squib in my eyes. 

Garrett Emerson, appearing for TfL, pointed out that there was a risk of any structure collapsing in theory and the rest of the programme illustrated that the issue is essentially a problem of ageing 1960s concrete bridges which are kept under watch for that reason, showing how one such bridge had netting under it to catch the falling concrete. 

He also explained that yes, they knew about the corrosion on the Hammersmith Flyover, but that they understood heavy goods vehicles were able to be supported. When they inspected it and found that not to be the case they closed the bridge.

After having established that rather boring reality the rest of the programme meandered along talking to some  trendy architects with brightly coloured cafetieres about how a tunnel might be quite a nice idea at some point in the future. 

It's not difficult to recall the chaos that ensued, traffic-wise, around Hammersmith as a result of the flyovers' closure and of course there were concerns that the Olympics could have been impacted with many teams needing to use the bridge to get to the Olympic Village. But on the evidence of last night's programme I think this particular round of local sound and fury might not last too long.

Peter Hendy: on the attack
051212 UPDATE Well, I said the sound and fury would die down - but it seems to be coming the other way in the wake of the BBC's Inside Out programme. Appearing today at the London Assembly's Transport Committee was Peter Hendy, Commissioner for TfL. He said not only was the programme "mendacious" and "rubbish" but that it was "on a par with Jimmy Saville", referring to the Beeb's recent less than perfect approaches to things.

The document presented by both the BBC and our friends in the local media was not, as they have both claimed, one which set out the current state of the bridge. No. It had been a document looking at options for emergency planning in the worst case scenario of a collapse. That was the sort of emergency planning TfL and other public bodies carried out for all similar scenarios, which was "a good thing", he argued.

But his harshest words were perhaps reserved for Andy Slaughter who then became a topic of conversation in his own right. TfL had written to him "in strong terms" and he hoped that the MP would desist from making further outlandish claims, he said.

You can watch the whole thing here. I'm not sure anyone comes out of this episode looking that great, really.

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