The Children’s Commissioner today waded into the row over the closure of Hammersmith Bridge saying it was “extremely disappointing” that pupils will be forced to make arduous trips in the dark to school over winter.
The intervention by Anne Longfield came two days after the taskforce set up by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to speed up repairs to the crossing confirmed that no replacement ferry service will be available until the spring.
It was originally hoped that a shuttle between Barnes and Hammersmith could be in place by the time the clocks changed last week.
The delay means that an estimated 2,000 primary and secondary school students have to make lengthy diversions to Putney and Barnes bridges along largely unlit stretches of the Thames towpath.
Ms Longfield said: “In the face of a global pandemic it is extremely disappointing that measures to help thousands of children get to school safely and securely because of the closure of Hammersmith Bridge are delayed for exactly as long as they would give most benefit.
“It’s very concerning that measures such as a ferry over the winter months are delayed by decision makers who don’t have to make the journey twice daily themselves.”
Parents in west London whose children’s schools have been caught up say they are “devastated” by the slow progress.
Michelle Coulter, 49, who lives in Barnes and whose two daughters go to school north of the river, said: “These journeys might be acceptable in summer but on the cold, dark, wet days of winter it is just not the way children should be getting to school.
“Parents are having to make horrible decisions between their children’s safety and their education.”
A spokesperson for Hammersmith and Fulham council said: “The council is committed to working with the taskforce to help facilitate a crossing that protects the safety of children.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “The Government is committed to ensuring Londoners can cross the river again as soon as safely possible. Discussions are ongoing.”