After his election last May, many people had difficulty seeing Boris Johnson as a credible mayor. Now he’s had a chance to do his stuff, has anyone changed their mind?
Nobody seemed particularly concerned about Boris Johnson’s decision to stand for London mayor until it became apparent he was going to win. Although there were confident hopes for a series of amusing slip-ups and gaffes, the overriding fear was that these would be at the expense of a serious plan for London’s future.
With the capital’s development relying so heavily on decisions taken in City Hall, the construction industry, in particular, was ambivalent about Johnson’s move from Have I Got News For You to the most powerful job in London.
On the first anniversary of his coming to power, it is fair to say that there have been both plenty of comical quotes and evidence of a serious intent lying behind them. Of course, the real test of how he is doing is whether he has delivered his election manifesto, and to assess whether he has done that we called on industry experts for their opinions – but not before asking the man himself how he rates his performance.
What do you think you have achieved in terms of the planning and development of London?
Well, changing planning policy in the capital is a bit like changing the course of a supertanker. There are lengthy planning procedures and hoops to jump through that take several years. However, while the revised London Plan is not due for publication until 2011, we are well on the way with its review, which will aim for a more balanced focus between the outer and inner boroughs. It will also outline plans for a more collaborative approach to working with our partners to ensure we deliver effective planning policies. Already we are seeing results, as many boroughs are signing up to housing delivery targets for the next few years.
How do you plan to help with the construction industry’s recovery from recession?
I am, along with the London Homes and Communities Agency (LHCA), ensuring that part of the £5bn housing budget is used to kickstart stalled housing building sites. Only last month the LHCA announced a £93m package to enable work to begin on five large developments.
People have been surprised about your stance on tall buildings. You were against them in your previous role as a Conservative MP and now you appear to be staunchly pro. What would you say to those who accuse you of doing a u-turn?
I would say that is nonsense. I have always said well-designed tall buildings have a role to play in London’s development, but they must not overshadow existing landmarks. I promised to amend the London Plan to reinstate the original protection of 10 historic views that my predecessor had removed and strengthen protection for three new views. These will be published shortly in a new views management framework.
You have been an unequivocal supporter of Crossrail since you became mayor. But what is your response to the rows over planning contribution for the project?
I am keen to establish from the outset the following: developments that will add to demands on the rail network should help support the rail link scheme. I am equally aware that such an approach should be reasonably pragmatic at this stage and will continue to consider each case in light of its individual circumstances, progress made with the review of the London Plan and any points applicants wish to draw to my attention.
There has been concern at the number of US firms winning major roles on Crossrail. Shouldn’t the work be going to UK firms?
Crossrail will be the biggest publicly funded infrastructure project in London in decades, and potentially the most disruptive. Our first consideration is finding the right project management skills internationally to deliver this massive scheme on time and to budget with minimal disruption to London’s businesses and quality of life. We welcome bids from British contractors and very much hope that a large percentage of Crossrail work will go to UK companies, but this cannot be at the expense of quality or taxpayer value.
Are you serious about building an airport in the Thames Gateway?
I am very serious that Heathrow cannot expand and that is why I am excited that Doug Oakervee, executive chairman of Crossrail, is looking at the feasibility of an alternative airport in the Thames Estuary.
If the Conservative party wins the next general election, would you consider a Cabinet post instead of standing for re-election?
I have a laser-like focus on running London, and I am enjoying the job immensely.
If you were to pick a modern architect to redesign City Hall, who would it be and what would the finished product look like?
Zaha Hadid. I don’t know what it would look like – that’s why I would ask her to design it.
How would you feel if one of your children told you they wanted to become a builder? What advice would you give them?
I would be proud. The construction sector is vital to both the capital and the country’s economy.
The mayor pledged to deliver low-cost housing through the First Steps programme for first-time buyers. He promised to use £130m from the regional housing pot to kickstart the scheme.
In November 2008 the programme was set out in the London Housing Strategy draft consultation. Since then, the London Homes and Communities Agency has invested £42m in the programme to help deliver about 500 intermediate rented homes. However, there is concern that the recession will mean this project will take a long time to deliver.
Johnson promised to deliver 50,000 affordable homes by 2011.
In October 2008 the London assembly’s planning and housing committee warned that this could be unachievable because of the recession. The Home Builders Federation said 66,000, including private homes, was a more accurate figure. In February Johnson admitted he may not be able to fulfil this pledge in these “dark times”.
The mayor pledged to amend the London Plan to remove the 50% affordable housing rule.
Which modern architect would i pick to redesign city hall? Zaha Hadid. I don’t know what it would look like – that’s why I would ask her to design it.
In July 2008 Johnson confirmed the target would be ditched. The Greater London Authority (GLA) is now working with London boroughs to agree individual targets for the number of affordable homes they can deliver. This means Johnson is on track to deliver this pledge, but some argue his borough-by-borough approach is too complicated.
What the industry says
Liz Peace, chief executive, British Property Federation
“The jury is still out on Boris’ housing policies. Having decided he would move to a system of affordable housing targets per borough, his team has been involved in the time-consuming process of seeking to gain agreement borough-by-borough.
“The view of the public is probably that the mayor can make a difference from day one, but as far as planning and housing goes, the statutory consultation exercises he must go through mean that the delays so far are not his fault. But I think patience will ebb away if the situation persists in a year’s time. Overall, the challenge to provide sufficient decent housing for London is likely to overwhelm most mayors, particularly now. By paring back on his staff and generally not emphasising the importance of good housing at every turn, Boris risks falling into the ‘overwhelmed’, rather than ‘grasping the challenge’ category.”
Johnson pledged to alter the London Plan to come up with new policies for tall buildings.
When Johnson introduced his amended London Plan in summer 2008, he confirmed he would back tall buildings provided they were in clusters and the right areas. But there has been some confusion over what is an acceptable design. While schemes in areas such as Blackfriars have been given the go-ahead and clusters in suburbs like Croydon are likely to follow suit, others have been more controversial. Last month he opposed a 27-storey scheme in Finsbury for being “too bulky”.
What the industry says
Roger Madelin, chief executive, Argent
“Boris has managed to establish himself as a serious, responsible leader and has put London’s best interests ahead of party politics. It’s been a tough year for him, but he has been doing the right things behind the scenes. I am pleased there will be a review of London’s viewing corridors. I just hope the outcome won’t mean sensible development is ruled out. I hope Boris and his team will keep in mind the importance of tall buildings for kickstarting construction.”
The mayor announced he would alter the London Plan to allow contributions towards the funding of Crossrail to be raised from developments.
The planning levy ignited a row between the Greater London Authority and developers. Johnson said: “Developments that will add to demand on the rail network should help support the rail link scheme.” There has also been concern over the number of US firms such as Bechtel and Transcend winning roles on the £15.9bn scheme. Johnson replied that it was in the best interests of taxpayers that the roles go to the firms best suited for them.
His support for Crossrail has been unequivocal. On 20 April he announced that a further £8m would be invested in the scheme to create a new college that will train 1,000 Crossrail workers by 2015. The demolition at Tottenham Court Road, which will mark the start of construction, has begun.
Johnson is against the expansion of Heathrow airport and suggests an alternative terminal in the Thames Estuary.
Johnson remains vehemently against the third runway. In November he pledged £15,000 to an anti-Heathrow third runway campaign and has threatened to take legal action against ministers who agree to go ahead with plans to build it.
What the industry says
Michael Ankers, chief executive, Construction Products Association
“Johnson’s approach to Crossrail has got to be a good thing. And as well as the construction itself, there will also be activity in terms of housing and offices for places along the line.
“As for Heathrow, although a new hub airport will mean a lot of planning and work, it’s good he is thinking about it. We need an airport with first-class public transport links, which is not something I am convinced Heathrow can offer. I would say that on these two major transport targets, Johnson is delivering what he set out to do this time last year.”
Thames Gateway and Olympics
Johnson said last May that the Thames Gateway Executive was failing to adequately co-ordinate development. He promised to put targets in place to solve this problem.
Problems remain, with projects being put on hold or mothballed. Things came to a head in November 2008 after Johnson announced that transport schemes vital to the project’s success – the Thames Gateway bridge and the Docklands Light Railway extension to Dagenham – would not be funded. The project – which aims to build 160,000 homes and provide 225,000 jobs in a corridor from east London to south Essex and Kent – has been stagnant for most of Boris’ first year.
Last May, the mayor promised to rein in the costs of the London Olympic Games.
Johnson clashed with Ken Livingstone over the cost of the Olympics in June 2008, saying a deal signed by his predecessor on cost overruns was “far from clear”. However, in February 2009 he appeared to start focusing more on the regeneration of east London. He announced in February that the project would leave behind a university, schools and academies, community facilities, a business hub and 100,000 new homes.
What the industry says
Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics
“While he has been enthusiastic about the Games and made moves in this area, Boris has not made much progress in the Thames Gateway. But it’s very complicated and it would be difficult for any mayor to get things going quickly – especially in a recession. So while there has not been much target-hitting in regards to his original manifesto, in inner or outer London, I don’t think it is necessarily his fault. Anybody expecting to see much from the Thames Gateway this year will be disappointed.”
Original print headline - Boris: One year on
Johnson’s first year as London mayor in quotes
May 2008 on his election
“We have a new team ready to go to City Hall. Where there are mistakes, we will rectify them, where there are achievements, we will build on them, where there are neglected opportunities we will seize them and we will focus on the priorities of the people of London. Let’s get cracking tomorrow – and let’s have a drink tonight.”
June 2008 first news conference
“We are not bringing back the old Routemaster. Some of them are being used to grow potted plants in California.”
August 2008 at the Olympic handover in Beijing
“Ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century and it was called whiff whaff. Other nations – the French – looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner. We looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff whaff.”
“Unlike the current occupant of the White House, he has no difficulty in orally extemporising a series of grammatical English sentences, each containing a main verb.”
November 2008 on Gordon Brown’s approach to the recession and falling value of the pound
“He is like some sherry-crazed old dowager who has lost the family silver at roulette, and now decides to double up by betting the house as well. He is like a drunk who has woken to the most appalling hangover, and who reaches for the whisky bottle to help him dull the pain.”
December 2008 on the year ahead
“It was the great Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now who said, ‘Some day this war’s gonna end.’ And some day this recession is going to end ,too. Confidence is going to come surging back with all the biological inevitability of the new infatuation that follows a broken heart.”
January 2009 on labour’s big beasts
Perhaps Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are themselves supersized saurians who have been sent on a 10-year mission to wreck the UK economy, in preparation for the great lizard takeover.
March 2009 on the G20 talks
“I don’t want to read any nonsense in the G20 communique about how they are ‘resolved’ to do a deal. I don’t want them to ‘reaffirm their commitment’. There is little point in having this summit unless they recognise the gravity of the situation, and sign an agreement next week. So there’s your chant, my crusty friends. What do we want? Free trade! When do we want it? Now!”
April 2009 on Damien McBride and the Labour smears
“I don’t want to talk about McBride. I don’t want to think about him. There is a large part of me that does not want to read another sentence about this lately exploded pustule on the posterior of the British body politic.