New Thames bridge closed in safety scare

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The Independent Online

London's first bridge across the Thames for more than 100 years made a shaky debut today - police were forced to briefly close it because it swayed too much.

London's first bridge across the Thames for more than 100 years made a shaky debut today - police were forced to briefly close it because it swayed too much.

The graceful 330-meter (1090-foot) suspension bridge is the key part of a pedestrian corridor starting outside the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral and crossing the river to the new Tate Modern art gallery.

It is designed to sway in the wind, but the sheer weight of hundreds of pedestrians made it move violently.

After 10 minutes, the number of people crossing was limited while police liaised with the engineers who built the structure crossing the Thames.

A City of London police spokesman said: "From what I have gathered anybody who was a bit unsteady on their feet might have been in trouble."

Some of the first users who staggered from side to side trying to find their sea legs found it a disconcerting experience.

Newsreader Julia Somerville, who crossed with her daughter Rachel, 11, said the bridge was beautiful but "the walk across was very hair-raising."

"It was like doing the cake walk - we were looking at each other asking 'Is it supposed to do this?"'

"I think you need to take your seasickness pills before crossing," said Margaret Vint, 60. "I wouldn't recommend it if you are feeling at all tipsy."

"It was awful this morning when there were hundreds of people on it," said Alison Buckley, 37. "It's taken me a full hour to get my balance back."

The police spokesman said: "It was swaying in the wind and we closed it while we got in touch with the bridge's engineers and city engineers to see if it was safe.

"They said the bridge is designed to sway, but it seems there were problems caused by the sheer mass of people crossing. It was probably made worse by people walking in step."

The Met Police controlled the situation on the south side of the bridge while City of London Police dealt with the north side.

The spokesman added that the chairman of the Millennium Bridge Trust had assured police there was no safety risk posed.

The new Millennium Bridge was a cooperative effort among Foster and Partners architects, sculptor Sir Anthe competition.

Funding for the 18.2 million pound (dlrs 27.3 million) project included a grant of 3.5 million pounds (dlrs 5.2 million) from the Bridge House Estates Trust Fund. It traces its origins to the 11th century when a tax was imposed to help repair London Bridge.

That wooden bridge was replaced in the 12th century by a stone structure which not only carried traffic, but was jammed with shops and houses. Rents from those properties, bridge tolls and tolls from ships passing under the bridge were collected by the fund, along with bequests "to God and the Bridge."

The Bridge House Estates Trust Fund was tapped for the construction of Tower Bridge, which was completed in 1894 and was the last previous Thames bridge.

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