Nine Elms Bridge: Carbuncle, Classic or Con?

Cry Me A River

We have every right to criticise the knee-jerk nimbyism that has skewered deserving projects in the Capital while giving a free-pass to mediocre constructions that aren’t quite bad enough to raise a fuss. The usually perceptive NLA Chairman Peter Murray has suggested that criticism of the Nine Elms cycle bridge can be similarly attributed to elderly, change-resistant residents, and local politicians with their own agendas.

They are mistaken: this project is marketing-led. Developers build things, whether carbuncles or future classics. Marketers not so much. The money hasn’t been spent on really useful things, like proper transport integration studies1. It’s been spent on things that evaporate: PR campaigns, press releases, lovely images, great presentation. It’s a very well appointed project, but when it fades away it will leave very little behind except perhaps some cool, smooth Corian and stainless steel in a few corporate foyers.

The project has produced some genuinely interesting ideas over the years but ‘The Bridge’ has mostly been about helping to sell a lot of inappropriately configured housing stock to people who already have houses. Which is a pity because the bridge team and partners have included some very talented people whose time and effort could have benefited London so much more on something worthwhile.

Latest Nine Elms Bridge Report, April 2018

“The Design Team has confirmed that construction costs for the recommended location of the bridge are still estimated to be £40 million (at 2013 prices).”

The Report2 is disingenuous when it estimates the cost at £40 million. One clue is written between those brackets.

  • Cost inflation in the construction industry since 2013 would increase this figure to at least £60 million in 2018-19.
  • This original estimates were a ball-park figure using two generic bridge types as cost models, not the innovative and complex design now required, yet the project team still uses the obsolete figure obtained from low-tech models in their literature and press releases.
  • It was for the bridge structure alone. It did not include any other costs. There is also a rather alarming list ofexclusions3 which have yet to be evaluated.
  • Words in brackets tend to get left out of press stories. And journalists often have nether the time or the inclination to read through a series of reports dating back to 2013 to trace when and how the numbers were made up.

So, a fancy bridge design, complex engineering, purchasing Riverside land in Pimlico and all the other items on the excluded list? Probably way more than £100 million at 2019 prices, so long as the design, implementation, the surrounding work and transport integration don’t prove challenging.

(Note: In February 2019 Wandsworth announced the choice of Option 4C, Claverton Street to Kirtling Street, for which the estimate was £46.5 million, not the £40 million that has been widely reported)

Will we get 100 million quid’s worth out of it?

This latest report recycles the assessment of demand from previous reports which themselves used arbitrary and improbably high estimates for the number of cyclists and pedestrians who would divert from their usual routes to use the Nine Elms crossing4.

And they were done in the days before Cycle Superhighways and the future Northern Line Tube extension could provide more viable alternatives. No evidence-based study of demand has been produced for any of the bridge locations5.

The developments in Nine Elms have targeted their property sales at wealthy foreigners, so it’s difficult to see how local traffic would make up the shortfall. This 2018 report has prudently removed the original figures but still asserts the claims they were used to justify.

Who Pays?

The cycle bridge was supposed to be privately funded by the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (VNEB-OA). The much touted £26 million ‘already identified’ seems to have been the development’s CIL and s106 money, not necessarily just bridge money. It’s been dropped from this report.

Nine Elms developers have already scaled back their affordable housing promises by pleading a viability squeeze. They’re just not going to pay £100 million for a cycle bridge. The report also quietly drops previous funding ideas and now poses the issue of funding as an open question.

A huge amount of money is being pledged, on behalf of developers with cash-flow problems, for the benefit of the few people wanting to travel between Pimlico and Nine Elms without using the Cycle Superhighways, existing bridges, bus or Tube.

The bridge would be a safer, healthier and more pleasant route for cyclists who made the effort to divert their journey, but surely this much dosh could buy London’s cyclists something better.

What’s Missing?

There doesn’t appear to have been any work done for a real bridge.

The 2013 TfL Feasibility Study was a proof-of-concept with made up figures to construct a case for a crossing. It’s scope and resources were severely limited.

Nine Elms cycle bridge: Arch design used for 2014 costings (NEPB Feasibility Study)
A generic tied arch bridge design used to estimate costings for the Nine Elms cycle bridge (NEPB Feasibility Study) in 2014 before the current bridge design had been chosen. These same costings, adjusted for inflation, are still being used for the 2018 Report.

The 2014 Report did the same from an engineering perspective using two generic bridge designs, some previous studies, and  soil analysis from before the Second World War6.

Although Wandsworth and the VNEB-OA have promoted the cycle bridge as a vital transport infrastructure project, it hasn’t produced any of the transport, integration and modelling studies that would normally be essential to validate, support and guide even a small-scale project. It’s difficult to understand why the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, gave such a vague offering a place on the London Plan.

Read More: Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge articles.

Nine Elms Bridge Consultation

Following a poorly received Nine Elms to Pimlico cycle bridge consultation last December, Wandsworth Council and its developers have announced a new public exhibition, from 3-10th November, as part of their efforts to promote the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (VNEB-OA).

Four locations were suggested in 2012, a single location for the 2013 study, seven in 2014, five in 2015, and then nine in 2017. They have now whittled them down to just three, routes 2, 3 and 4C, for which we have this exhibition7.

Exhibition Dates & Locations

South:
Sat 3 Nov, 10am–3pm: Park Court Clubroom, Battersea Park Road, Doddington Estate, SW11 4LD.
Tues 6 Nov, 3pm–8pm: Bolney Meadow Community Centre, 31 Bolney Street, SW8 1EZ.
Wed 7 Nov, 3pm–8pm: St George’s Patmore Church, 11 Patmore Street, SW8 4JD.

North:
Fri 9 Nov, 3pm–8pm: 110 Rochester Row, SW1P 1JP.
Sat 10 Nov, 10am–3pm: Westminster Boating Base, 136 Grosvenor Rd, SW1V 3JY.

Nine Elms cycle bridge consultation: map of 3 locations NEPB VNEB-OAThe US Embassy to St George’s Square route, upon which Wandsworth’s bridge campaign appears to have been predicated, will probably be chosen. If it becomes necessary to extend the campaign, expect a penalty shootout between option 2 and one of the others.

Notes

    1. This is the North side transport integration study (2013-14): “Allowance has been made for the following works at each landing point: (i) Footpath construction on one side for approximately 30m, (ii) One new crossing point with subsequent road widening / realignment.”Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge (NEPB) transport integration study 2013-14
    2. You can find the NEPB April 2018 Report (35Mb PDF) on this page.
    3. Exclusions include: Inflation beyond August 2017; Land acquisition and associated costs; Legal & administration costs; Site investigation costs; Transport; PLA and Highway interface; Planning consent costs including legal and consultants; Utilities diversion, reinforcement and abnormal connection charges; Abnormal ground conditions, including consequential works and significant level of imported filling or removal of excavated material from site; Discovery of archaeological artefacts or other antiquities, leading to delayed start; Allowance for extensive / specialist external works; Finance charges; VAT; Compensation to adjoining owners; Landscaping outside a notional 500m2 zone to each landing; Phasing of works; Other third party costs; Ecology requirements – protected species etc; Section 106 and 278; Road closure costs; Temporary access requirements; Wind deflection; Utilities and routes across bridge for others.
    4. Trip diversion rate: Chelsea Bridge, pedestrians 42%, cyclists 31%. Vauxhall Bridge, pedestrians: 44%, cyclists: 40%.
    5. VNEB-OA Transport Strategy: Northern Line extension would bring the most benefit to the area. Bus and overground enhancements would also contribute greatly. For the cycle bridge “…it is difficult to assess the full impact of a pedestrian and cycle bridge in terms of number and distribution of trips, it could attract a significant number of pedestrian and cyclists.” (source: Nine Elms Partnership  /  Chapter 06: Transport strategy )
    6. Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge geology & soil study based on 3 borehole logs near the Dolphin Square location and one from the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge. These are from 1920-1930s. It’s unclear whether the Nine Elms Bridge will leave such a useful legacy, but it has done some useful reviews of data e.g. local arboriculture, unexploded ordinance and archaeology.Borehole record used to create Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge geology study (1936)
    7. The alignment of option 3 has changed, possibly just a map drawing error.

 

6 Comments

Add Yours
  1. 1
    ian

    I don’t suppose the developers after cutting prices on empty flats have two Porsches to rub together, let alone £100m

    Dream on….

  2. 2
    Ken

    “Hello, Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge here with an important announcement…

    It’s been an exciting and rewarding roller-coaster ride! But there is a price to pay for all those years living in a make believe fairground, putting on the glitz, giving you thrills and spills, so I’m off for a well-earned holiday.

    Don’t worry, I’ll be back with more lovely architectural renderings and empty promises as soon as I’m fully rested and back in demand. I’ll be waiting in the wings for you.

    Just. Tell me you want me. Tell me you want me back again.”

  3. 3
    Tim

    As someone who works in Pimlico and lives in Battersea I would use the bridge for my daily commute. I cannot see that the Location 4c option would involve any significant detriment to Pimlico. We need schemes such as this to encourage more walking and cycling in the city.

  4. 4
    Marco

    We all have our own opinion; and as a cyclist I think it is a good idea and I hope it happens; it will create connectivity and motivate people to cycle and walk more.

  5. 5
    Ian

    In my days as a cyclist I invariably chose the shortest and flattest route.
    The only access to the proposed bridge will involve a half mile or longer detour from the main approach roads to Battersea and Vauxhall bridges, followed by a steep climb up to the bridge itself.

    Not attractive !

    The bridge is definitely an expensive white elephant and the developers are short of money.

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