London's bridges are falling down
And so is a lot of other stuff
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We like to bring you insightful intelligent journalism here at London in Bits. So here’s a bit of a scoop for you:
London is old. Like, really really old.
To give you an idea, the oldest intact building in the city is the White Tower at the Tower of London. As the website proudly states, it’s “almost 1,000 years old” having been built by William the Conqueror in the the early 1080s, and (timely trivia alert) Guy Fawkes was allegedly ‘racked’ in the basement there.
The oldest house in London is 41 Cloth Fair in Farringdon which was built somewhere between 1597 and 1614, and was the only house in the City of London to get through the Great Fire of London intact. Apparently there are skeletons buried in its foundations. Not the kind of thing you want to advertise on Rightmove.
Why are we telling you this? Well, you know when you watch one of those property programmes and the very excited couple buy the beautiful old Victorian house because it looks stately and romantic at first glance; and you just know that after the first ad break, at least one of them will be in tears because the dream has quickly becomes a nightmare of persistent leaks, worrying looking cracks and dangerously outdated electrics?
Well, that’s London right now.
Old things in London which are falling apart no. 1: Bridges
Richmond Bridge (oldest Thames bridge still in use): 1777
(They were really into bridge building in the second half of the 1800s weren’t they!)
Last Thursday, the London Assembly’s Transport Committee produced a report which was launched with the rather punchy headline: London’s ageing river crossings – an international embarrassment. Ouch.
The report comes off the back of an inquiry into the Hammersmith bridge omnishambles, which saw the bridge closed to motorists in April of 2019 after cracks were fund in the cast iron pedestals, and then completely closed (i.e you couldn’t even walk over it) in August of last year. The bridge reopened for pedestrians and cyclists this summer, although “stabilisation work” is still going on.
The report says that news of that closure “travelled globally through the most prestigious media platforms, damaging our reputation internationally” and factors like “growing populations and commuting, climate change and extreme weather conditions” mean that it’s unlikely to be a one off (there’s also a lot of unnecessary puns about “bridging the gap” etc, but we’re just going to go ahead and ignore them).
One of the big problems with maintaining all these ageing structures is that no one is really responsible for them. London Bridge, for example, is owned and maintained by Bridge House Estates, but TfL are the ones responsible for the road, and one end is in the City, while the other end is in Southwark. So one of the recommendations of the report is to set up a central ‘kitty’ into which “all the relevant asset owners would contribute.”
This is needed because the report warns that “Twickenham, Kew, Battersea and Lambeth may need extensive interventions within 10 years” and the estimated cost of the maintenance work that‘s needed to deal with just the existing issues is coming in at around £241m.
The report also recommends the Government should give London’s portion of Vehicle Excise Duty (which is currently worth around £500M) to TfL; as well as (and this is where it gets a bit controversial) suggesting that “options should be laid out for how maintenance can be made more affordable by means of controlling speed or volume of traffic, particularly for heavy vehicles.”
As we’ve learned in the past year, London’s drivers absolutely love it when you tell them where they can and can’t drive, or how fast they can go.
Old things in London which are falling apart no. 2: The British Museum
While we’re talking about long-running and contentious arguments… the British Museum (which opened its doors in 1759) is set to reopen the Greek galleries to the public on 13 December. If you hadn’t already guessed, that’s where they keep the Parthenon sculptures, aka ‘the Elgin marbles’ (which, the museum’s website would like you to know, definitely were not stolen).
Ahead of the reopening, The Art Newspaper has penned a comprehensive and pretty damning article on the Museum’s maintenance woes that tracks their long repeated issues with a “crumbling infrastructure” and how the “shoddy state of the galleries, which house the celebrated marble sculptures removed from the Parthenon, has fuelled Greek demands for their restitution.”
It includes the time in 2018 when the forty-year-old glass ceiling cracked and water leaked all over the Parthenon Marbles gallery, and a similar incident in July last year when heavy rainfall “led to water leaking into the room containing the Nereid monument”.
The Museum’s deputy director has blamed the fact that this section of the building is a bit of a hodgepodge of extensions, creating “a series of complex rooms added at different times and all needing different levels and kinds of maintenance caused by the passage of time and the effects of the weather.” But the real problem is (as always) the cost of maintaining the place.
The Art Newspaper quotes a National Audit Office report that shows the “British Museum requested £48.4m for maintenance over the five years from 2016/17 to 2020/21 and received £21.3m”. On top of that it’s had £12m from “a new maintenance fund set up to support urgent repairs,” £5m from the “government’s national museums maintenance fund”, and £9.8m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Public Bodies Infrastructure Fund.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Marbles are going to stay dry in the short term. The Museum is looking how it’s going to “overhaul all of its galleries and redisplay all of its collections” and the Newspaper thinks that it could be “several years before the museum is able to turn its attention to upgrading the Greek and Assyrian galleries.” Until then it’s relying on “localised repairs as required.”
What could go wrong?
Old things in London which are falling apart no. 3: Parliament
Construction on the Houses of Parliament began in 1837 and finished in 1860, which makes it older than most bridges in London. So you can imagine what kind of state it’s in.
In fact we don’t have to imagine, because “50 engineers, architectural surveyors, acoustics and lighting specialists and ecologists” have just spent “a combined 4,700 hours over Parliament’s recess period” examining the building’s 2,343 rooms for the ongoing Restoration and Renewal project. Their conclusion is, essentially: it’s a bloody deathtrap.
The issues they found include cracks in the stonework, widespread water damage, outdated electrical and mechanical systems, “warping and sagging” stained-glass windows, and “outdated and interweaving gas, electrics, water, sewage, and heating pipes in the basement”.
It was also discovered that some of the the candle and gas light fittings had been “turned upside down when converted to electric power more than 100 years ago,” which can’t be good.
And they’re not done yet. “More detailed examinations” are happening next year, when “intrusive” probes will be inserted into the building.
Someone who’d we like to see intrusively probed is Jacob Rees-Mogg, who gave a statement on the work (presumably so there was less danger of him being mistaken for a skeleton), saying it was “important to understand and map out the restoration work needed to protect the building” in order to “justify this project to taxpayer.”
He’s not wrong. At the last count the “preferred option” for restoring the Palace of Westminster, was going to take 30 years and cost between £4bn and £6bn.
And the rest…
Back in September it was discovered that “the amount of diesel pollution on some new trains is 13 times higher than on one of central London’s busiest roads.” and now a group led by the leader of Westminster council has written to the Government demanding the heavily polluting diesel trains be banned from Marylebone station to improve the “unacceptably poor” air quality in the area.
The Bank branch of the Northern line will close between Kennington and Moorgate from the middle of January next year, until until mid-May.
Meanwhile over in Whitechapel the council has secured £9.3m in funding to give the high street a ‘facelift’ in time for the arrival of the Elizabeth Line (it probably didn’t hurt that Tower Hamlets council are moving their headquarters there in 2022). The cash will go towards “new street lighting, better pavements and more greenery, better market stalls and street cleaning.”
Cressida Dick says she is “very confident” that people will support the idea of plain clothes officers outside bars. The trial of ‘Project Vigilant’ was launched in South London last week, and was immediately criticised as “window dressing”.
The whole ‘pedestrianise Oxford Street’ issue is back after the mayor took to the stage at Cop 26 to say that turning the “shopping strip into a pedestrianised plaza will show how the UK capital is leading the charge to respond to climate change.”
Printworks, which was recently was named the seventh best club in the world by DJ Mag, could soon be turned into offices. British Land, the developer of the Canada Water Masterplan (you know it’s evil if they call it a ‘masterplan’) said it has “explored a range of uses” for the space in Rotherhithe, and has taken forward a “workspace-led design”. So far the planning application has had more than 400 objections “from people pointing out Printworks’ reputation as one of the best venues in the capital.”
Tickets have gone on sale for Mexican Geniuses: A Frida & Diego Immersive Experience, which uses “video-mapping technology” to bring the artists’ “greatest masterpieces to life.” We’re cynical about this one. We’ve had two Van Gogh ‘immersive experiences’ already - not to mention a Da Vinci one a few years ago - and they’ve all been overpriced and underwhelming in equal measure. No need to drag poor Frida & Diego down as well.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a dubious PR-led ‘scientific study’, but Lenshub have come to the rescue with their comprehensive analysis of 11 tube lines “to determine the best and safest tubes for doing your makeup”. Their ranking takes into account factors like temperature, customer satisfaction (?) busyness, average off-peak speed, percentage of the route that is above ground, and the age of the line. The winner: The Metropolitan line. So now you know.
Seen the John Lewis Christmas ad yet? Apparently, quite a bit of it was filmed in South London.