diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 07, 2023

One things Mayors of London do, on a fairly regular basis, is set out their plans for the future. Ken and Boris did it, Sadiq does it, it being an important part of what a Mayor's supposed to do. Done well it showcases a range of bold ideas setting the capital on course for expansion and growth. Done badly the cupboard is bare because the incumbent won't be around by the time most projects complete.

Ten years ago, at the start of June 2013, a fresh Mayoral roadmap was launched setting out the stall for what would, should and might be happening when. That document was The Mayor's 2020 Vision and the Mayor in question was Boris Johnson, hence the introductory text included words like gloomsters, lunged and teleological. A lot of the projects were transport related because TfL had a budget committed to moving things forward, whereas many of the other plans were a lot woollier.

I blogged about it at the time.
"Interactive webpages rarely archive well, so I thought I'd extract the key points from the timeline and summarise them below in bog-standard text for posterity. It's fun to come back to reports like this in the future, and to laugh at the wildly optimistic dates scheduled for project completion."
It was officially a seven year plan, being a 2020 Vision, but ten years seems a fairer timeframe for introspection given 2020 was hardly a normal year. Also I was right about archiving issues because the video, the interactive map and the interactive timeline have all been lost, although the glossy report still exists on the london.gov.uk website if you know where to look. And of course a lot of the projects never happened, partly because the Mayor was Boris but mainly because every decade throws its curveballs.

Let's have a look back at London's aspirations in 2013 and see whether they've been realised or quashed.
Complete: Northern line upgrade 2014, Tube upgrade 2018, Crossrail 2018, fleet of 2000 New Buses 2020, Crossrail 2 2030, High Speed 2 2032
The Northern line upgrade was an easy signalling slamdunk. The tube upgrade scheduled for 2018 was the Four Lines Modernisation plan, which successfully replaced all rolling stock by 2017 but still hasn't completed its signalling upgrade so we're not yet seeing the full benefits. Crossrail embarrassingly slipped four years to 2022. Boris's beloved New Bus For London stalled at 1000 vehicles because his successor wasn't keen. Crossrail 2 is essentially dead, in part thanks to Boris himself failing to fund it as PM. And HS2 is currently due to begin running between 2029 and 2033, so that 2032 projection may be pretty good.
Deliver: World Athletic and Paralympic World Championships 2017, 75% automation on the tube 2019, tube wi-fi 2020, Ultra Low Emission Zone 2020, Team London Ambassador in every school 2020, Silvertown Tunnel 2021, tree cover increased by 5% 2025
The athletics happened. Automation on the tube remains a populist pipedream so '75% by 2019' was plainly bolx. Tube wi-fi only reached the Jubilee line in 2020 and won't be everywhere until the end of 2024. The London Ambassador volunteers inspired by the Olympics essentially melted away. The Silvertown Tunnel project (which Sadiq inherited) is running four years late, now due 2025. The tree cover pledge has switched to a more nebulous 10% by 2050.
Redevelop: Kings Cross 2013, Royal Docks 2014, Colindale 2018, Earl's Court 2018, Waterloo 2019, Upper Lea Valley 2020, Greenwich Peninsula 2020, Lower Lea Valley and Stratford 2020, Nine Elms and Battersea 2020, Park Royal/Old Oak Common 2030, Brent Cross/Cricklewood 2030
I assume these are intended completion dates in which case I laugh at most of them. Earl's Court is still a contested desert. The millennial Greenwich peninsula is still nowhere near full residentialisation, ditto the Lower Lea Valley round the Olympic Park, ditto Nine Elms. Old Oak Common might deliver its first homes by 2029, not its last by 2030. Brent Cross/Cricklewood is intended to complete by, ooh, 2031.
Regenerate: White City 2013, Croydon 2015-2017, London Bridge and Borough 2016, Wembley 2017, Woolwich 2020, Elephant & Castle 2020
Regeneration's always a bit vague, but I can tell you that the revamped London Bridge station didn't open until 2018, they're still building towers in Wembley and Woolwich, and Elephant & Castle is substantially further behind.
Expand: Housing covenant 2014, Cycle Hire 2014, Canada Water science cluster 2017, Overground to Barking Riverside 2017, tube lines to Outer London 2030
Cycle Hire has barely expanded since 2014 (bar bulges to QEOP and Brixton). The Canada Water science cluster is only happening now (and in a pop-up manner). The Overground reached Barking Riverside in 2022, better late than never. And tube lines to Outer London are likely an extinct aspiration, again thanks to lack of commitment by the ex-Mayor when PM.
Create: Med City 2014, link from Kensal Green to Crossrail 2016, more apprenticeships 2016 & 2020, London housing bank 2016
Med City was a name for a health cluster in Whitechapel that didn't catch on. No plans for a Crossrail station at Kensal Green have ever made it further than a council-sponsored feasibility study. The London Housing Bank dissolved because developers weren't interested.
Build: London's new hub airport 2020, up to six electricity substations 2020, East London river crossings 2020, Thames Crossing east of Dartford 2024
Boris Airport is dead in the water and rightly so. Only one East London river crossing is on the books, the aforementioned five-years-late Silvertown Tunnel. The Lower Thames Crossing could be open by 2030 but is still seeking a Development Consent Order.
Begin: Northern line extension 2015, plans for trams to Sutton and Crystal Palace 2016, Crossrail 2 2019, retrofit programme 2020
The Northern line extension did indeed commence in 2015 but wasn't complete until 2020. Plans for trams to Sutton first surfaced in 2018 but have been buried by the pandemic. Crossrail 2 never even reached the 'begin' stage before it was squished. The 'retrofit' plan was supposed to benefit every badly insulated home in London but froze before even reaching a tiny fraction of the total.
New station: Old Oak Common (Overground) 2016, Woolwich (Crossrail) 2018, London City Airport (Crossrail) 2018, single Euston-King's Cross-St Pancras interchange 2021, Brent Cross (Thameslink) 2022
There are still no confirmed plans for orange trains to stop at Old Oak Common. Woolwich station opened on Crossrail in 2022 but London City Airport station probably never will. Euston St Pancras has been kicked into the long grass by a government intent on amputating HS2. Brent Cross (Thameslink) is only going to be a year late.
Upgrade: Bank and Holborn stations 2021, three Wembley stations 2021
Bank got funding and its upgrade was completed in 2022. Holborn didn't and may never get the refurb it needs. Massive redevelopment at Wembley hasn't come with significantly upgraded stations.
Improve: tube reliability 2015, the roads 2016, cycle safety 2016, Gospel Oak to Barking electrification 2017
The first three of these are aspirational waffle. Goblin electrification completed in 2018 after multiple long periods of closure.
Encourage: Tech City 2013, more housebuilding 2014, Outer London cycling 2016, Inner London cycling 2020, London Riverside 2020
More waffle. I think we can agree that improvements to cycling in Inner London have exceeded those in outer London. London Riverside (i.e. Beckton to Rainham) still needs a heck of a lot of encouragement.

Back in 2013 I wrote "History tells us that most of these plans will never happen, or will happen late, or will be seriously reduced in scope" which ten years later seems as good a summary as any. What I hadn't foreseen is that the man signing the report might one day be running the government which scuppered several of the plans, although several slowed down or seized up without any input from him whatsoever.

I see that one of the key proposals in Boris's 2020 Vision was "Secure a stable 10 year funding settlement for TfL", when ironically 2020 proved to be the year that even a six month settlement proved impossibly problematic. As such Sadiq tends not to pump out big lists of infrastructural aspirations because he has far less control over future improvements, indeed in many cases his ambitions are more like managed decline.

It's always good to be reminded that Mayors can only propose, never promise. And the Mayor's 2030 Vision alas looks somewhat empty in comparison.

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