Foot tunnels latest: Those ‘hidden structures’ revealed (sort of)

You might remember my post a month ago about the continuing fiasco of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, whose refurbishment has turned into a long-running saga. Asked by Greenwich Cyclists’ Anthony Austin, cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland put the delay down to the discovery of “hidden structures”.

None of this made much sense, so I put in a Freedom of Information request to find out just what these “hidden structures” were. Here’s the response – which isn’t actually about hidden structures at all, but about issues with the stairs not picked up in initial surveys.

I’ve edited it slightly for sense – the original is here. Stringers support the stairs, treads are the bits you tread on and a soffit is the underside.

The comment related to the stairs in both locations. In all four shafts, these have corrosion of the load bearing faces and ends of the cast iron treads and corrosion hidden behind the stair stringers that could not be detected until the stringers were removed. In addition, many of the individual treads have been found to be completely fractured and these have been replaced with specially-cast replacements.

This hairline-fracture damage was not detectable until the holding bolts on the stair soffits had been removed.

Removal of chequer-plate flooring to the machine rooms has revealed structural repairs required to the structural members before the re-installation of the lifts and motors, and at high level on the Greenwich cupolas. Fractured and broken cast iron elements have been removed and re-cast or repaired ready for replacement.

Again, these problems were not apparent to the pre-contract survey and inspection either because the structures and components were inaccessible or they only revealed themselves as components were accessed for conservation.

So, the problems are less about “hidden structures”, which bring to mind all sorts of riverbed horrors (remember, there’s World War II bomb damage on the north side) but more about hairline cracks on the steps and in the machine rooms. Which was perhaps the answer Denise Hyland should have given to Mr Austin last month. Or maybe it would make a feature to fill up the pages of council weekly Greenwich Time instead of another photo-op for the council leader. But never mind. We know now.

There are some positive signs at Greenwich – the scaffolding is down at Cutty Sark Gardens and in Island Gardens, although the last time I passed Woolwich, it looked as if the site had been abandoned. Whatever is going on down there, hopefully we’re nearing the end of this saga.

10 comments

  1. Chris

    Thanks for your digging on this. What a shame you had go through all that to find this out.

    In fact, my response to the answer tends to be ‘well, that’s fair enough.’

    Where Greenwich have fallen down on this is (like a lot of businesses/councils in this country) not providing us with clear and detailed updates. How much did it cost the council to reply to your FoI request when they could just have let us know anyway?

  2. Geoff Myers

    Hi Darryl
    I join with Chris in thanking you for taking time to dig out the information and publishing it. I just hope it will be resolved soon.

    I attempt to cycle commute from Essex to Blackheath at least three days a week but as I am getting on a bit I find trying to do the stairs in the tunnel whilst carrying bike and bag a bit much!

    Meaning I have to wait to use the clippers great but you get cold hanging around and then you pull things! And at around £5.50 day it defeats the cost savings and does tend to force one back into ones warm car in this weather!leading to feelings of extreme guilt and a return of that spare Tyre you thrashed all summer to reduce!

    Merry Christmas

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