Thames bridge restored to its noisy normality

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The Independent Online
FOR ALMOST three years the residents of Hammersmith in west London have enjoyed a temporary reprieve from the scourge of modern life; the motor car. But yesterday's reopening of Hammersmith Bridge signalled the return of pollution and noise.

As the first cars rumbled across the renovated Victorian bridge, which links Barnes with Hammersmith, residents' reactions were mixed.

"Are you collecting signatures for a petition to keep the bridge closed?" asked Irona Jensen, 68, staring at the flow of traffic that surely made any petition useless.

"It was just very pleasant without it," she said mournfully. "You could walk slowly across, look at the view, stop and have a picnic... Our neighbour upstairs says he thinks he's going to be killed because he's so used to walking across without looking."

Hammersmith Bridge, which was built in 1827 and rebuilt 60 years later, feeds one of the main arterial routes into London. When it closed, the area was split between those who welcomed a reprieve from the traffic, locals who complained of being cut off, and residents of nearby Putney and Chiswick, left to cope with the increased traffic over their bridges.

Since the pounds 3.5m renovation programme began in February 1997, two new developments have been built on the south side of the river, which will increase the volume of traffic. "It's going to be just like it was before, but probably worse," said Mrs Jensen.

Caron Wilkes, 40, a housewife, moved to the area in July and has grown accustomed to the peace. But, on balance, she is in favour of the reopening. "My husband works in Brentford and he has been going over Chiswick Bridge where the tailback is terrible."

Residents voted 2-1 in favour of the bridge reopening. Among those in favour was Lynne Thorne, who owns The Dresser clothes shop at the foot of the bridge. "We're pleased because we've got a lot of customers on the other side," she said. "Businesses generally have suffered losses, but since we've been here 14 years most of our customers find us. We're used to the noise from the traffic. We're just looking forward to getting rid of the workmen."

One of Mrs Thorne's customers, who declined to be named, was more outspoken. "Damn good thing," he boomed, applauding the reopening but cursing Hammersmith and Fulham Council for taking so long. "The bridge was designed to have traffic. There is a demand, so let's use it.".