The Mayor of London has been in office for five years, but he has not grasped the challenges facing a city that will soon be home to 10 million peopleby Andrew Adonis / September 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Johnson has made no attempt to put in place the housing, transport and other infrastructure that the city requires”
Boris Johnson has been very adept at selling London abroad. But after five years as Mayor, his Achilles heel is clear: he doesn’t have a credible plan to deal with the capital’s rapid expansion. The city’s population, which is currently 8.2m, is projected to reach 10m within 20 years. Johnson’s response? Reams of warm words, but little attempt to put in place the housing, transport and other infrastructure that London requires.
London needs a plan—both to become a bigger world city and also a better place for those who live and work there. Those who say that a city with ancient roots, like London, cannot be planned are wrong. Christopher Wren in the 17th century, John Nash in the Regency period and Patrick Abercrombie after the Second World War all showed how it can be done.
In June, Johnson published his “2020 Vision” for the capital. This was not a plan so much as a blowing of London’s trumpet, a guidebook and a collection of suggestions for supporting the city’s growth with scant assessment of priorities and no timescale or programme for delivery.
On infrastructure, the 2020 Vision simply promises that there will be a plan for upgrading transport and communications. This may, says the Mayor, be published next spring, but it may take longer. On new housing, the biggest challenge facing London, one part of the 2020 Vision refers to 32 “opportunity areas” where, it says, “there is scope to build hundreds of thousands of houses on brownfield sites.” Another part refers to 19 opportunity areas with pen portraits of a selection of them, but with no plan worthy of the name for their development.
The predecessor of the 2020 Vision, the “2009 London Plan,” refers to 33 opportunity areas and 10 “intensification areas.” The distinction between the two is opaque—indeed Canada Water, an intensification area in the 2009 plan, is reincarnated as an opportunity area in the 2020 vision. So depending on which document you read, Johnson is sponsoring anything from 19 to 43 priority areas for development.