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'Wobbly' bridge designers could face legal action over extra costs

SOUTHWARK COUNCIL could take legal action against the designers of London's £18M Millennium Bridge to raise the extra £5M needed to fit antiwobble dampers and bracing.

'If there is no agreement on funding, legal action remains our final option, ' confirmed Southwark Council leader Stephanie Elsy this week.

'Those responsible for the wobble should pay for it to be fixed, ' she added.

Southwark is the owner of the bridge and put £250,000 into the original construction budget.

Elsy said the council would pay no more towards the structure which was designed by architect Foster & Partners and structural engineer Ove Arup.

The bridge's nominal client the Millennium Bridge Trust, which has acted as fundraiser for the project, is trying to raise the cash needed to cover the extra work.

But so far no extra money has been found. 'Discussions about the funding of the work have made good progress, ' said the trust in a statement this week.

Elsy said on Tuesday: 'We want a bridge that works, one with unrestricted access and we're not going to pay any more to get it.

'The bridge will benefit the whole of London, so it's unreasonable to expect Southwark - one of the poorest boroughs in the UK - to come up with millions of pounds extra.'

Since the details of Arup's retrofit proposals were revealed in NCE last week, most of those involved have tried to avoid the issue of who will foot the estimated £5M bill.

On Friday Arup chairman Bob Emmerson revealed that it would fund the £250,000 cost of trialling its proposals on the bridge over the next few months (see feature p12).

But on the larger question, Emmerson would only say that discussions on funding were 'active' and that he expected the issue to be resolved before Christmas.

'Everyone involved with the bridge is committed to a permanent opening as soon as possible.'

Foster & Partners refused to comment, referring enquirers to the MBT statement.

The Corporation of London also refused to comment. It will take over responsibility for the crossing from Southwark at a yet to be decided date - probably in 2002.

The extra maintenance costs generated by the dozens of viscous and tuned mass dampers proposed by Arup will ultimately fall on the Corporation.

Original funding came mainly from the Millennium Commission, the Corporation of London's Bridge House Estates Trust, HSBC Holdings and the Cross River Partnership.

Legal action could involve Arup and Foster, plus Category III checker Mott MacDonald, which has largely escaped the flak since the opening day debacle.

Mott MacDonald is thought likely to adopt the same basic defence as Arup, pointing out that the bridge complies with all current design codes and standards.

Arup is also likely to claim that the opening day sway problem is very rare, and that the three or four other bridges that suffered from it were of very different structural types.

And there were no reports of any injuries to pedestrians or structural damage.

If funding is not forthcoming, it is unlikely that the bridge will re-open in its current form.

Insurers have already indicated that they would insist on controlled access before covering the owners against personal injury claims if nothing is done to control the wobble.

Nobody associated with the project is happy with the idea of turning the bridge into little more than a tourist attraction, rather than a fully functioning route across the Thames.

Southwark's Elsy emphasised that no legal action has been considered to date

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