Monday, January 09, 2012

"It will be all right by the Olympics" . Mayor Boris faces Concrete Problems

CYCLISTS were staging a road safety protest by Kings Cross yesterday evening. If they caused any disruption to traffic, motorists may not have noticed. At least not those trying to get in or out of the capital to the west, where five-mile long tailbacks were tending to gridlock, and all due to closure of the main artery linking London with Heathrow and the West.

On TV we saw Transport for London officers answering questions, but in a year that sees both mayoral elections and London hosting the Olympics, we were bound to hear in other reports from Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson:

Hammersmith Flyover 'will reopen before Olympics start'

The mayor of London's office has said it will know in a week whether the Hammersmith Flyover in west London can be reopened to traffic while critical repairs are carried out to strengthen it.

It gave assurances that the A4 route would be in full working order by the time the Olympics start on 27 July.

Boris Johnson said it would not be shut "one day longer than necessary".

Boris Johnson took charge of the crisis on the Hammersmith flyover today as it emerged that the bridge could partially reopen to traffic within three weeks.

Mr Johnson visited the west London flyover and said he wanted to reassure drivers "suffering traffic hell" that he is doing everything in his power to ensure it is open again as soon as possible.

Transport for London today admitted that the crisis on the flyover was continuing and said it would be at least another week before engineers can decide whether the bridge is strong enough to support even light traffic.

But sources today told the Standard there are hopes the flyover can be at least partially reopened within two to three weeks. The Mayor gave his assurance that it would be fully reopened in time for the Olympics.

The 50-year-old flyover, which carries the A4 over the centre of Hammersmith, was shut suddenly on December 23 when steel cables were found to have been corroded by salt water from grit laid during successive winters.

The Hammersmith flyover was completed in 1962. According to Wikipedia, " it was one of the first examples of an elevated road employing reinforced concrete balanced cantilever beam supports with a single central column. The deck spine and wings are of hollow prestressed concrete design, with each span being tensioned by longitudinal tendons (four clusters, each of sixteen 29mm steel cables). The flyover was designed by G. Maunsell & Partners, Consulting Engineers, led by Peter Wroth.

Marples, Ridgway and Partners, a Westminster-based civil engineering contractor, built the flyover at a cost of £1.3 million. The then Conservative Transport Minister Ernest Marples had been a Marples, Ridgway shareholder. To avoid a conflict of interest Marples undertook to sell his controlling shareholder interest in the company as soon as he became Minister of Transport in October 1959, although there was a purchaser's requirement that he buy back the shares after he ceased to hold office, at the price paid, should the purchaser so require."

I'm no enginer, but it sounds to me like the bridge is actually built employing the technique of post-stressed concrete, whereby cables are tightened within the concrete after it is laid. Back in the early 1970s I was sharing a house up North with a couple of friends, one of whom was employed as a technician on motorway construction. One day Steve came home not his usual carefree self, and told us that he had been testing the grout, a mixture of cement and sand in water, that was used to surround cables embedded in concrete, in order to seal them from the elements. Finding a batch that was not of the proper consistency - I think it was meant to be cement-rich - he had reported this, only to be told to let it go.

Steve explained that if the cables were not properly grouted and sealed, rainwater permeating through the concrete would cause them to rust, and you might eventually have lumps of loosened masonry from bridges falling down on to the motorway.

I told him somewhat naievely that he ought to go to the press with his story. He replied that if he did that "it would be the end of my career in civil engineering and construction". He was probably right. He won't mind me telling his story now, as last thing I heard he had gone into teaching instead.

In the case of the Hammersmith flyover however, there has been an anonymous whistleblower, who contacted the Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle to tell them the flyover was unsafe, on December 14. While the most that Transport for London would admit was that it needed some repairs, the Chronicle’s source insists the:

post tensioned strands are severely corroded and in some cases completely severed… these temporary solutions [TfL] are considering involve temporary propping which any structural engineer with half a brain will tell you is almost impossible to do correctly with a structure of this kind. It’s not a question of whether the structure will collapse, it’s a matter of when

It is reported that the original design of the flyover provided for under-floor heating to keep the surface ice free in Winter. But instead the authorities have relied on putting down grit and salt. (which is more than some London roads have enjoyed !) This has resulted in saltwater seeping down which is far more corrosive to the cables.

The flyover was closed on the 23rd December 2011 after structural defects were discovered, Transport for London estimated that repairs would last until at least January 2012. Well it is January 10, and the flyover is still closed, causing chaos both to commuters and commercial road transport. If it reopens within a few weeks heavy vehicles may still be prohibited from using it.

Mayor Boris Johnson has only promised it will be alright by the Olympics. He may be hoping to take credit, but have to back away from taking responsibility if the problem proves as bad as some fear. Meanwhile, London bus drivers are hoping to tackle Boris over another pressing issue when he visits Hendon next week. They have no toilet facilities at Brent Cross. Of this more anon. Perhaps he'll promise they'll be opened before the Olympics. Boris is good at taking the piss.

A long way from Levenshulme to Liechtenstein

MENTION of Marples Ridgway will bring back memories of Ernie - not the fastest milkman in the West but a Tory minister with that touch of cheek that is supposed to entertain the electorate.

Ernest Marples had a respectable enough background. He was born in Levenshulme, Manchester, in 1907. His father was an engineering charge-hand and Labour supporter, and his mother worked in a local hat factory. Marples attended Victoria Park Council School and won a scholarship to Stretford Grammar, he even became involved in the Labour movement. He was selling fags and sweets to football crowds by the time he was 14, and playing football himself in a YMCA team.

He worked variously as a miner, a postman, and accountant and a chef, but it may have been the army that started him on the wrong path. Commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1941, he rose to Captain before he was dischargd on medical grounds in 1944. That year he joined the Conservative Party, and in 1945 he was elected to MP for Wallasey In 1951 Winston Churchill appointed him a junior minister, and he remained a minister under Harold MacMillan and Sir Alec Douglas Home.

In 1957 Harold Macmillan appointed Marples Postmaster General, and as the telephone system was controlled by the GPO in those days, Ernest Marples was able to take credit for the introduction of Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD), which gradually replaced the need for phone operators. On 2 June 1957 Marples started the first draw for the new Premium Bonds. The equipment housed at Lytham St.Annes was also called ‘ERNIE’ to represent ‘Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment’,,

Macmillan made him Minister of Transport in 14 October 1959, and Marples remained in this post after Alec Douglas-Home succeeded Macmillan as Prime Minister in 1963 and until the Conservatives lost the general election on 16 October 1964.

As Minister of Transport, Marples oversaw the introduction of parking meters and the provisional driving licence. The 1960 Road Traffic Act brought the MOT test, yellow lines and traffic wardens,

It was Ernest Marples who appointed Dr Richard Beeching as chairman of British Rail The Beeching Report ;in 1963 recommended closure of a further 6,000 miles (9,700 km) of the remaining 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of Britain's railways, and closure of approach routes, which was made up for by motorway expansion and more work for Marples Ridgway.

Marples had set up this company with Reginald Ridgway in 1948. Although it began small it grew with contracts for powers stations and roads in Britain and abroad. When he became a junior minister in 1951 Marples resigned his directorship of Marples, Ridgway to avoid a conflict of interest. When he was made Minister of Transport in October 1959, Marples further undertook to sell his shareholding in the company to avoid a conflict of interest. However, there was a purchaser's requirement to sell the shares back to Maples after he ceased to hold office, at the original price, if Maples wished this. The purchaser was later revealed to be Marples' own wife.

In 1959 Marples authorised the first section of the M1 motorway, Britain's first inter-city motorway, between London and Nottingham. Marples, Ridgway was given the contract. Marples, Ridgway built the Hammersmith Flyover in London at a cost of £1.3 million, immediately followed by building the Chiswick Flyover.

When Lord Denning investigated the security aspects of the Profumo Affair in 1963, and the rumoured affair between the Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, and the Duchess of Argyll, he confirmed to Macmillan that a rumours that Ernest Marples was in the habit of using prostitutes appeared to be true. The story was suppressed and did not appear in Denning's final report.

In 1974 Marples was elevated to the peerage, and his wife Ruth Dodson became Lady Marples.

Early in 1975 Lord Marples suddenly fled to Monaco. Among journalists who investigated his unexpected flight was Daily Mirror editor Richard Stott:

"In the early 70s ... he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear ... So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company ... there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions ... He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years' overdue tax ... The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein."

As well as being wanted for tax fraud, one source alleges that Marples was being sued in Britain by tenants of his slum properties and by former employees. He never returned to Britain, living the remainder of his life at his Fleurie Beaujolais château and vineyard in France. He died in 1978.

He is buried in Southern cemetery, Manchester.


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