The new timelines for repairs to the Victorian crossing were revealed last night in a virtual public meeting of the task force set by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in September.
Roads minister Baroness Vere, who heads the task force, told the meeting that a full repair of the bridge would take six and a half years, more than twice as long as previously feared.
It also emerged that a ferry service to allow pedestrians to cross the Thames will not start operating until the spring.
Residents described the setback as “truly devastating”. Julia Watkins, 51, of Barnes and whose two teenage children cross the river to go to school, said: “People are just shattered. These long delays means children as young as six are having to cycle eight miles a day.
“Old people are having to pay £40 a time for taxis to reach hospital for regular appointments. Businesses are collapsing and ambulances can’t reach us.” The cast iron structure was closed to traffic in April last year when cracks were found in metalwork that left it vulnerable to collapse.
It was shut to pedestrians and cyclists in August when the cracks widened in a heatwave, forcing residents and pupils in south-west London to make long diversions to adjacent bridges.
Council chiefs had hoped to have a passenger ferry service in place in time for the clock change on Sunday but progress on this was stalled by talks on future funding of Transport for London.
Baroness Vere told the meeting that the delays and a long procurement process meant that a ferry it is unlikely to be available before the end of winter.
The task force’s engineering chief Dana Skelley said pedestrians and cyclists could “potentially” be allowed to use the bridge “in a very controlled” way by February once further engineering investigations are completed.
However, the fragility of the 133-year-old crossing meant this could only at “certain temperatures and at certain times of day”. A full reopening of the bridge to pedestrians is at least a year away.