The “will they, won’t they?” bridge across the Thames

Posted by Derek Mason

30th January 2024

Picture caption: The London Millennium Footbridge. Picture credit: Alberto Zanetti on Unsplash.

If you want to make London more pedestrian friendly, with fewer cars on the roads, then it’s going to take more than the Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone. Sustainability-focused infrastructure is needed too, which is why the proposed new Thames bridge for Pimlico and Nine Elms is such a good idea. It will cut journey times and make life easier for cyclists and pedestrians. Plus the design looks great too. But there’s a problem.

A decade on from this bridge being suggested, work has not begun, and yet the bridge hasn’t been officially scrapped either. It seems to be in some kind of limbo, with little conclusive evidence as to whether it will or won’t go ahead.

There are currently around 25 bridges over the River Thames in London, as well as tunnel, train, Tube and boat crossings. Adding this bridge to transport options for the area would make a huge difference to the residents and workers of Pimlico and Nine Elms.

It’s relatively unusual for new footbridges to be built across the Thames. As far as I know, the last one to be built crosses from the South Bank to St Pauls Cathedral and opened in the year 2000, hence the name – The Millennium Bridge.

Dukes Meadows Footbridge in Chiswick opened in 2023, but this enhanced a route alongside the Thames, rather than adding a crossing.

Needless to say, there was a lot of buzz around the Nine Elms and Pimlico bridge when it was first announced, almost ten years ago. After a design competition, Wandsworth Council commissioned Copenhagen-based Bystrup Architecture and Engineering to design the bridge with Hampstead-based architects Robin Snell and Partners. The bridge design team identified a preferred location in 2019, crossing the Thames from Grosvenor Road riverbank in Pimlico on the north bank, to Kirtling Street near Battersea Power Station on the south or Nine Elms side.

This is seen as an opportunity to create a new, sustainable transport link which connects the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area (OA). This area was identified in the Mayor’s London Plan as having potential for 18,500 new homes and 18,500 new jobs by 2041. The OA was designated in 2004 and is part of the Central London Growth Corridor.

You can see what the bridge will look like on the Robin Snell and Partners’ website. Or at least that’s what it will look like if it ever gets built. Plans were progressing well before the pandemic, with £26 million in private funding identified for the project, and a Transport for London feasibility study declaring the bridge would “pay for itself twice over in terms of reduced journey times and other benefits”.

However, like a lot of projects in recent years, it appears to have been put on ice. This is understandable, but with a greater sense of normality returning to the capital, the bridge needs someone to champion it.

Work could start on this bridge once the Thames Tideway Tunnel Works finish in 2025, so it would be good to see this project being defrosted and brought back to life.

Let’s hope that happens, as it would be a practical and aesthetically pleasing addition to the Thames. Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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