Boris Johnson's biggest design fails as London mayor

From sweatbox buses to a novelty ‘dangleway’ and fantasy bridges that never saw a brick laid. Boris Johnson’s design legacy in London left the taxpayer with a bill of more than £940m after his eight years as mayor. The Guardian’s design and architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright, takes a tour of the worst monuments to Johnson’s ego etched across the capital. He finds out how much they really cost us then and now, and why we’re still paying for them.
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The new mayor of London
Boris Johnson.
Overheating buses, empty cable cars
and fantasy bridges.
Boris Johnson’s legacy,
after eight years as mayor of London,
was a string of expensive vanity projects,
that ended up costing the
British taxpayer £940m.
Now each scheme followed the
same general formula:
come up with a one-liner idea that
would make a catchy headline
and a great photo opportunity,
then find a private sponsor
to pay for it all,
in exchange for ample
promotional opportunities.
First came the ‘Boris bus’.
What better icon of London for
Johnson to stamp his name on?
This is the most hi-tech
piece of motoring technology I’ve ever seen.
The New Routemaster was
billed as a return to the
glory days of London Transport,
with a nostalgic retro design that
would bring back conductors, as well
as having a “hop on, hop off” back door,
and be more environmentally friendly.
But the final design, by Thomas Heatherwick,
ended up costing almost twice as much
as a standard double-decker and has
suffered from a host of practical problems.
In summer the upper deck turns into a mobile
sweatbox, with dodgy air-conditioning,
and they’ve proved to be even
more polluting than regular buses.
They were finally retrofitted with opening
windows at an extra cost of £2m
to the taxpayer.
Then came the ‘Boris bikes’.
Now the cycle hire scheme was actually
the brainchild of his predecessor,
mayor Ken Livingstone, but
that didn’t stop Boris from
claiming the idea as his own
and promising mountains of cash
in sponsorship in return.
In reality, the bikes have cost
the taxpayer around £200m
since they were launched,
and Transport for London subsidises
the scheme by over £3m a year.
This is the Rolls-Royce of bicycles.
Not content with conquering the
roads, Johnson aimed for the skies.
He’d always had a thing for
dangling from wires,
so he concocted a plan for this
novelty cable car ride across the Thames.
It was presented as a
“vital transport link”
that would be entirely paid for by
private sponsorship
from the Emirates airline company.
But once again, it didn’t quite
turn out as planned.
Thanks to the foresight and
wisdom of Emirates,
this is a fantastic deal also
for the taxpayer, folks.
Costs ballooned to £60m, making it
the most expensive cable car project
in the world, and leaving the public
with an extra £24m bill to pay.
And it didn’t prove quite as popular
as Johnson had promised –
just two years after it opened, the
cable car was found to have
not a single regular user.
I think Londoners have been very
frustrated and alarmed over the last
few months, to keep reading about
money being wasted or
misappropriated even,
and I think it’s time that we cleared
that up and showed that
we’re going to deliver taxpayer
value from now on.
The 2012 Olympic Games provided
another opportunity for Mayor Johnson
to adorn the skyline with another
pointless bauble.
He was worried that the main stadium might
not have the necessary “wow factor”
to enrapture visitors, so he concocted
a plan for a gigantic steel sculpture
that would all be paid for by the
steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal.
This mutant helter-skelter behind
me was the result, designed by Anish Kapoor
– a kind of mangled roller-coaster ride,
without the actual ride.
It was intended as a money-making
attraction to pay for the upkeep
of the park, but in reality it
ended up costing Londoners
£10,000 a week to maintain.
In 2016, this slide was added at
the cost of a further £3m,
in the hope of attracting more visitors
to come and take the white knuckle ride …
It boosted visitor numbers for the
first couple of years,
but last year it was back to making
a loss of almost £60,000.
Johnson’s wider Olympic legacy hasn’t
quite turned out as he promised either.
The Athletes’ Village, which cost
about £1bn to build,
was then sold for about half that
amount to the royal family of Qatar.
After over £11bn of public money being
spent on the Olympics,
the rest of the park was supposed
to provide opportunities for community-led
housing initiatives, with half of
all homes classed as affordable.
In the end, the plots have been sold
off to the usual volume house builders,
and under Boris Johnson only 30%
of homes were affordable.
Do you even know the
cost of a pint of milk?
About 80p, something like that.
No, it’s about 40 something p.
I don’t know the price of, how much
a pint of milk costs … so what?
Well, don’t you think you should if you’re
concerned about the cost of living?
How much is a how much
is a loaf of bread?
I’m not standing for election.
You are.
And then there were the projects
that never even happened.
A list of costly fantasies that somehow
saw many more millions of pounds
flushed down the drain without
ever being built.
There was ‘Boris island’ airport,
a bonkers plan to rebuild Crystal Palace
and lot of ideas for bridges, most
infamously among them, the Garden Bridge.
Absolutely beautiful.
I mean, a stunningly beautiful project.
A new Garden Bridge.
I don’t know quite what the
point of this thing is.
This plan for a planted crossing was
dreamt up by his old friend Joanna Lumley,
and once again designed by
Thomas Heatherwick.
Without any sound business case
that we needed a bridge in this location,
£43m of public money was
somehow spent on the project
without a single brick had being laid.
Ultimately, his record as mayor of London
shows Boris Johnson to be a man
concerned with the advancement
of Boris the brand above all else.
He’s a man who recklessly blunders
into hastily brokered deals
without the slightest concern
for the small print.
And when he is finally held to account,
he’s already moved on to the next job –
and can’t quite remember
why he did any of it.
I’ve about as much chance
of being reincarnated as an olive.
Why would you say that?
Politics is nothing if not ambition.
It’s nothing if not ambition,
why couldn’t you think
about being prime minister?
You could if you wanted to.
Well I suppose I could, I mean,
as you’ve already pointed out, I could
be president of the United States.
You know, there’s no …
technically speaking.

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