James Berry is MP for Kingston and Surbiton.
As well the day-to-day job of keeping London moving, the Mayor of London needs to be a master-planner, anticipating the capital’s transport needs ten or twenty years into the future. That’s why the battle between jam-today fare-freezer Khan and jam-tomorrow transport infrastructure investor, Zac Goldsmith is so important, and why Zac has to win in May.
In the closing weeks of Boris’s tenure in City Hall, it’s worth reflecting on what his transport infrastructure legacy will be. My forecast is that, in years to come, the Johnson Mayoralty will be remembered for three major infrastructure projects: one he delivered, one he kick-started and one he prevented.
Although he has delivered it, Crossrail (now the Elizabeth Line) wasn’t Boris’s idea. The Crossrail Act received Royal assent in July 2008, two months he won the Mayoralty. But since then, Boris has worked with three successive governments to keep the tunnel boring machines grinding. When Crossrail is fully completed in 2019, it will have been delivered on time and on budget. With predicted annual passenger numbers of 200 million, Crossrail will increase central London’s rail capacity by ten per cent – the largest increase since World War Two. Crossrail will run over 62 miles from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, travelling through 26 miles of new tunnels and stopping at 40 stations, ten of which are new. At its peak, Crossrail was the biggest construction project in Europe, employing 10,000 people including 400 apprentices and supporting thousands of jobs on the largely British supply side.
When another Mayor opens Crossrail 2 in around 2033, there will be no doubt that Boris Johnson kickstarted it. The latest plans for Crossrail 2 stretch from Hertfordshire to Surrey. The new service will allow 270,000 more people to travel into London in peak periods every weekday and free up space on National Rail lines from commuter towns in the South of England. For commuters in South West London, Crossrail 2 is vital because it is Network Rail’s only solution to alleviating the terrible overcrowding we experience on a daily basis. But Crossrail 2 is much more than a transport project, and is designed to tackle London’s growing housing crisis. New stations and links into central London will unlock land for 200,000 new homes and regeneration, particularly in north east London.
Boris’s tireless advocacy for Crossrail 2 culminated in the new National Infrastructure Commission giving the project the Green Light and the Chancellor following suit with £80 million of funding for pre-legislative work in last month’s budget.
With the overall cost estimated at an eye watering £27 billion, it will take a Mayor of Boris’s stature to keep Crossrail 2 on the tracks in a time of austerity and countless other pressures on the Treasury. Boris held the line for Londoners when Crossrail came under fire in the aftermath of the financial crash. With a track record of working with government to deliver for his constituents and for Londoners, Zac Goldsmith is the Mayoral candidate who has shown that he will step up to the mark when the big funding for Crossrail 2 has to be secured.
Most Mayors would want to be remembered for enabling rather than preventing large infrastructure projects. But I’m sure Boris would be delighted to go down in the history books as the Mayor who stopped a third runway at Heathrow. Opposed to a third runway from the get-go on grounds of noise and air pollution, Boris has fought tooth and nail against Heathrow’s plans ever since. For the 750,000 people living under the existing flight paths, the prospect of noise from 250,000 additional flights from a third runway is unimaginable. And that’s before you factor in the people living under the new flight paths and the huge increase in polluting surface traffic at a time when Londoners list air quality as one of their main concerns.
Boris has always recognised that we need extra airport capacity in the South East to ensure our airports remain competitive with European rivals, and came up with proposals for a new hub airport off the North Kent coast. “Boris Island” was not shortlisted by the Davies Commission, which eventually recommended a third runway at Heathrow last year. Boris immediately formed an effective double act with Zac Goldsmith to convince the government that Heathrow’s third runway plans needed re-examining because Heathrow would simply be unable to meet the legal air quality limits they are already in breach of. It was fortunate the government acquiesced, because Boris had promised to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” to stop the construction of a third runway. When the third runway at Heathrow is finally killed off, hundreds of thousands of Londoners will know that bulldozer-blocking Boris is owed much of the credit.
Were it not for these three massive undertakings, the many other infrastructure projects Boris has committed to would of themselves be an admirable track record. When works are completed, commuters will feel the benefits of better access at Tottenham Court Road (2016), Bond Street (2017) and Victoria (2018), new stations at Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station (2020) and improvements at Bank / Monument (2021). All in all, a nice set of ribbons for London’s next Mayor or two to cut on projects commissioned by Boris Johnson, a Mayor who will be remembered as a master-planner who invested in London’s transport future.