It's Time for Some Blue Sky Thinking, Boris; Good Intentions: Boris Johnson's Planning Ideas to Date Combine Elements of Common Sense with Outbursts of Personal Prejudice

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 28, 2008 | Go to article overview

It's Time for Some Blue Sky Thinking, Boris; Good Intentions: Boris Johnson's Planning Ideas to Date Combine Elements of Common Sense with Outbursts of Personal Prejudice


Byline: ROWAN MOORE

MAYORS and architecture go together like bishops and actresses, or British politicians and Russian magnates. There is a mutual, and mutually dangerous, attraction. Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscow for a never-ending term, threw his weight behind the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour that had been destroyed by Stalin. Bertrand Delano?, mayor of Paris, created the Paris Plage, the beach formed each summer beside the Seine. Successive mayors of Barcelona built a worldwide reputation for beautifying their streets and squares, until Juan Clos blew it with the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures, a pompous Dome-like waterfront venture that provoked protesters into storming it on home-made rafts.

Boris Johnson has not yet proposed anything equivalent, not the reconstruction of the old house-filled London Bridge, nor a return to 17th-century ice fairs. His most tangible pledge so far has been for more drinking fountains, for which a design competition is currently being planned. The London Mayor lacks the power and funds to build megalomaniacal monuments. He is, however, the single most important person in London's planning system thanks to powers awarded by the Labour Government to (it intended) Ken Livingstone, only for them to end up in Boris's Tory palms.

This gives him an exceptional opportunity.

Combined with the lull in property development which gives time to work things out before the cranes start whirring again and the fact that Livingstone had already put a lot of work into planning and architecture, the Johnson mayoralty has the means to create and carry out policies for making London a genuinely better more beautiful, more civil, better functioning place. He also has ?4 billion to spend on housing, while the delivery of the Olympic legacy is his direct responsibility.

The question is what he is going to do with these opportunities.

There is no evidence that Boris had given much thought to the planning of London until the latter stages of the election campaign. City Hall insiders claim that even when he became Mayor, he still needed to be told the full extent of his power to refuse and allow planning permissions across the capital. Now he has grasped it, he may not be quite so willing to hand it all to the boroughs.

He did, though, have views on architecture and planning. In 2006 he declared that government should scrap modern planning regulations "so that people can do what the hell they want" and archi- tects should bring back the "gorgons, acroteria and classical traditions" of Ancient Greece. At the same time he attacked the "half-hearted" "pastiche classicism" of Quinlan Terry, who is one of Prince Charles's favourite architects.

He also said that "I hate bloody brick" and attacked "ghastly conformism".

By the time he was elected, these views had been shaped into something more mayoral-sounding: more power to the boroughs to make their own decisions, a limiting of tall buildings to clusters where they were already (such as the City, Canary Wharf and Croydon), more trees and more attention to the outer zones of the city.

He also abolished Livingstone's rarely -realised target of achieving 50 per cent affordable housing in new developments, instead focusing on achieving a certain number: 51,000 homes in three years. He appointed Sir Simon Milton, former leader of Westminster City Council, as Deputy Mayor Policy and Planning.

Despite his hatred of regulations he then announced that he would reintroduce the old Parker Morris standards, rules abolished by Margaret Thatcher that had set minimum sizes for rooms and homes. It was a civilised idea but he had to backtrack in the face of protests from housebuilders that times were sufficiently hard for them without their having to invest in making homes that were actually decent. The rules, Johnson explained, would only apply to affordable housing, for which space standards were, in fact, already in place. …

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