School children are being dangerously diverted through an unlit mugging hotspot due to the closure of a major London bridge.
Youngsters are also being caught out by the Thames tide after Hammersmith Bridge was closed to pedestrians and cyclists in August, turning what was a short journey to school into a perilously lengthy detour which parents say is risking their offspring’s safety.
Locals previously warned that the closure would create serious problems when the clocks went back last month. One 11-year-old has already been mugged and countless others have been stranded after the surrounding roads became so heavily congested their parents couldn’t reach them.
The mugging did not happen in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, but in neighbouring Hounslow.
Wilma, 11, from Barnes (pictured below) is one of 3,000 school children who used to cross the bridge every day. She found herself waist high in filthy Thames water at Chiswick Mall in September after mistiming her journey home on her bike.
Wilma walks through the high Thames tide after having to detour as Hammersmith Bridge is closed
Although extra buses have been laid on, due to the pandemic they can only carry a maximum of 70 passengers an hour, leaving children as young as five having to cycle for up to to 25 miles a day to get to school.
Mother-of-two Julia Watkins said children were being diverted through notorious Duke’s Meadow, which witnessed 150 crimes last year, including 35 sexual or violent cases.
She claims Hounslow Council has refused to put better lighting up because it might disturb the resident bat population. “It’s a nightmare, no one seems to want to take responsibility for the bridge,” she said.
Locals are now considering mounting a legal action against Hammersmith and Fulham council for failing to take enough action on the bridge, which first closed to transport in April 2019 after microfractures were discovered as a result of years of neglected and indications of corrosion.
Engineers say it will cost £46 million to make it safe for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and up to £141 million to fully restore the bridge so it can be reopened to vehicles.
Notes from the most recent task force meeting, seen by The Telegraph, estimate it will take six years to repair the bridge completely amid suggestions it might be quicker and cheaper to replace it altogether.
The huge detour needed to get around the closed bridge
After Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey intervened in September, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set up a task force led by Baroness Vere, who asked Hammersmith Council to contribute to the overall bill, with the rest covered by Transport for London (TfL).
However, Hammersmith councillors last month refused to pay any money, saying the Government should cover the cost because it is a “national strategic transport asset”.
Deputy council leader Sue Fennimore told The Telegraph £7.7 million had already been spent on the 133-year-old bridge, insisting: “We are totally committed to getting the restoration work started as quickly as possible.”
A spokesman added that it was “absolute gibberish” to suggest the council had enough money in reserves to fund the restoration. Between January 2018 and July 2019, the council signed 20 loans to different councils, worth a total of £174.5 million.
Residents are calling for a temporary bridge to be installed, or failing that a ferry service.
Earlier this month, TfL was instructed to set aside £4 million from its £1.7 billion bailout to fund a ferry but residents fear it will be inadequate to meet demand and take too long to get up and running.
A further £10 million would be needed to temporarily shore up the bridge to reopen to pedestrians and cyclists in, a project that will take at least seven months.