Boris Johnson's Legacy: What Has The Mayor Ever Done For Us?

By BethPH Last edited 78 months ago
Boris Johnson's Legacy: What Has The Mayor Ever Done For Us?
Bye! Photo by Geoff Marshall.

As eight years in the hot seat at City Hall draws to a close for Boris Johnson, we look back over his tenure as Mayor of London, and what his legacy will be.

To put this into some kind of context, let's take a moment to refresh our memories with his 2012 manifesto. Sadly, the links to the original documents have long since been consigned to the political wastebasket, but we've rounded them up.

Policing and crime

Is London one of the world's safest cities? We asked deputy mayor for policing and crime Stephen Greenhalgh:

"London is probably the safest global city on earth. On Boris's watch neighbourhood crime has fallen dramatically and confidence in the Met police has risen. By putting bobbies before buildings, there are still 32,000 police officers keeping Londoners safe. Finally, Boris has laid the groundwork for the Mayor's office to assume oversight of London's criminal justice system in partnership with the boroughs."

The Guardian's Dave Hill disagrees:

"Boris has been very poor and extremely complacent on policing and crime. His 2013 police and crime plan was full of meaningless targets and tired cliches about "bobbies on the beat". He came to power in 2008 claiming that London's crime statistics understated the city's problem, yet he has touted any new stats that tell the success story he wants Londoners to believe ever since."

It's probably fair to say that while Johnson made inroads into neighbourhood policing (albeit at a cost of closing police stations) he has also overseen some crime-related clangers. The disastrous purchase of three pre-loved water cannon against a majority vote from the London Assembly, which home secretary Theresa May later put the kibosh on anyway, being a fairly good example.

If you're wondering where the £660m raised from selling off the closed police stations went, some of it was turned into 22,000 body cameras for police officers. With incidents like the shooting of Mark Duggan, which sparked the 2011 London riots, to which his response caused a storm of criticism, we asked the Evening Standard's City Hall editor Pippa Crerar on the mayor's legacy for crime and policing:

"His handling of the riots was probably the low point of his time at City Hall, although crime overall has come down on his watch. There remain big concerns over rises in violent crime and sexual offences."


More has probably been written about London's housing crisis than anything else in the last couple of years.

Boris Johnson says he is on course to meet his target of 100,000 affordable homes since he was elected Mayor of London in 2008. Channel 4's FactCheck says that despite missing his target of 55,000 affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, Johnson has still overseen the building of more affordable homes than Ken Livingstone in the previous eight year period.

It's worth noting though that demand has spiralled for affordable homes in London in the last few years; London Assembly Labour spokesperson for housing Tom Copley thinks the mayor's legacy will be one of broken promises:

"Boris Johnson's chief legacy will have been to turn a housing shortage into a housing crisis. The mayor is fond of talking up his record, but the figures and broken promises speak for themselves. Last year London built fewer than half the homes his own assessment of need says are required to meet demand."

Whatever else Johnson's legacy for housing is, the definition of 'affordable' as being 80% of market rate is the one which will really stick with people.

Photo by entoptika in the Londonist Flickr pool


This is arguably one of the areas where we've seen the biggest changes in the last eight years, and perhaps one of the mayor's greatest successes.

Despite the dubious appropriation of Ken Livingstone's cycle hire scheme (which will inevitably continue to have the 'Boris' prefix applied long after the man himself has cleared his office out), the brightly-liveried bikes have become a part of London's transport system along with the controversial cycle lanes. Johnson told the Guardian:

"If I had my time again, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have gone straight in with a massive programme of segregated cycle superhighways. I probably wouldn't have been re-elected, unfortunately. That’s one thing to consider. But that would have been the right thing to do."

We asked Danny Williams, prominent blogger on City Cyclists and part of Boris Johnson's Road Task Force, for his views on the mayor's cycling legacy:

"The infrastructure is only just beginning to change. The changes are impressive, though. Really scary junctions like Oval or Blackfriars are becoming safe and easy to use. I'm increasingly seeing parents picking up their kids on bikes in places like Vauxhall which, only a few months ago, were a bike-free zone at school closing time.

We're still not there yet. Most of the cycle schemes are still not finished, so we get only a few of the benefits and some big problems such as congestion while the schemes are under construction. As soon as they're finished though, such as at Vauxhall, the congestion goes back to normal levels and you see a massive jump (73% increase in Vauxhall's case) in people cycling."

And what of Boris Johnson's decision to take on political journalist and editor Andrew Gilligan as London's first cycling commissioner. The appointment wasn't without its controversies, generating fresh accusations of cronyism. But has it got the job done? Williams thinks it's a good start:

"Cycling needed a commissioner of its own to get things done. Andrew Gilligan has done a great job there. But I think cycling needs to evolve now. We need to look at making London easier to get around by foot as well as by bike and bring those two things together with public transport, and really integrate non-car transport options that include a mix of cycling, walking and bus, tube or train."

Transport and infrastructure

Sigh. This is where we have to mention the Garden Bridge and the cable car, yet again, and you can choose your own adjective to append. Having established his love of bonkers infrastructure schemes with the Airport.Plan.That.Just.Will.Not.Die, the mayor turned his attention to a privately-owned pedestrian bridge with lots of trees and no toilets.

In other river crossing news, the cable car still had no regular users as of December 2015, though we did come up with seven reasons why it isn't all bad. Pippa Crerar told us:

"Many of the transport projects delivered by Boris were initiated by Ken Livingstone, who was certainly bolder in this respect. But Boris has continued to pour in crucial investment to our transport network — and successfully "banged the drum" for Crossrail. His cable car, garden bridge and plans for an estuary airport probably won't be remembered quite so fondly."

Where government funding has decreased, the use of private finance to subsidise infrastructure projects has been on the rise under Boris Johnson. It's one way of getting developers to pay up for improving local transport and infrastructure. Dave Hill is resigned to the current status quo:

"One of more unpalatable truths about transport and other vital infrastructure in London — including affordable housing — is that much of the money for it now comes from deals with private property developers. TfL, the boroughs and other public sector bodies are increasingly looking to spin-off funding from luxury housing developments, for example, to finance street improvements, low cost homes in expensive areas, schools and, of course, even tube line extensions, as to the Northern line in Nine Elms."

We can't talk about transport without mentioning the mayor's controversial U-turn over ticket office closures across the tube network in favour of putting more staff on platforms. London Underground staff expressed their displeasure through the now-ubiquitous medium of the station information board and the jury is still out on whether it was a positive move.

As for the night tube, Johnson's somewhat pre-emptive announcement of the long-awaited start date achieved something his predecessor never managed to — uniting all four transport workers' unions in industrial action against him.


"I will take action to make London the greenest city in the world." Boris Johnson, 2008

London hasn't got a great track record with air quality. In 2015, scientists at King's College London claimed that in 2010, 9,500 people died as a result of poor air quality; in 2014, Oxford Street was revealed to have the highest level of air pollution in the world; and in 2013, Public Health England claimed that deaths from particulate air pollution were rising in about 50% of London's boroughs.

Of course, we had the now infamous solution which involved sticking pollution to the road, and the claim that the mayor's office was less than supportive to pollution scientists at King's Environmental Research Group (ERG).

Perhaps slightly more effectively, the mayor introduced measures such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), making it compulsory for black taxis to be electric-capable by 2018, and the New Bus for London (NB4L) with all its flaws. But while change chugs on, has London left its legacy on Johnson rather than the other way round? Pippa Crerar believes Johnson's views have changed while in office:

"This [the environment] is probably the area where Boris's views have changed most. When he arrived at City Hall he was effectively a climate change denier and his interest in the environment stopped at planting street trees. Eight years on and he has become convinced of the urgent air quality problem in London. His low emissions zones and plans for electrification of the bus fleet are positive steps, but could have happened sooner."

Photo by Umbreen Hafeez in the Londonist Flickr pool

The Olympics and putting London on the map

So fearfully awaited and so triumphantly celebrated (especially as most of us took the typically British view that we would somehow fuck it up), the 2012 Olympics were a high point in the mayoral career. The winning bid came from former mayor Ken Livingstone in 2002, but it was Boris Johnson who ended up with the responsibility for overseeing its execution and ensuring its legacy...

...part of which has turned out to be a massive slide. Johnson commissioned the intermittently unpopular Orbit tower from Anish Kapoor which has since seen diminishing numbers of visitors. The answer was to repurpose it as a helter skelter at a cost of £3.5m. As you do.

Another bit of Boris Johnson legacy is the near total redevelopment of the Stratford area for the Olympics. By 2023, there will be more than 10,000 new homes, not to mention 'leading institutions in culture and education' such as the V&A, Sadlers Wells, UCL and the London College of Fashion taking up residence under the Mayor's Olympicopolis plan.

One of the many criticisms Boris Johnson faced as mayor was his love of a good publicity stunt, and he didn't shy away from promoting London (or himself, depending on your opinion), both at home and abroad. Sure, it's the mayor's job to run London, but that goes hand in hand with promoting the capital, which we think we can say that Johnson embraced wholeheartedly. Pippa Crerar believes it's one of his biggest achievements in the job:

"Boris's most successful legacy, in my view, is putting London firmly on the global map. The ambassadorial side of his role and confidence in the "greatest city on earth" boosted inward investment, tourism and the reputation of the capital. While he may be best remembered internationally for the striking image of him stuck on a zip-wire, he has played a blinder in the role of London's number one salesman and champion."

We could have spent all day writing about everything Boris Johnson has done during his eight years in City Hall. Some of it great (the homelessness initiative No Second Night Out; transforming a previously car-centric city to be a bit more cyclist-friendly), some of it not so great (scrapping Ken Livingstone's regular press conferences in favour of a Twitter #AskBoris session; handing over the hard work of running the city on a day-to-day basis to a succession of deputies).

It's fair to say that while being mayor of London is a pretty high profile job, a four-year term necessarily limits opportunities to effect lasting change on a city which is itself constantly changing. The newly-elected mayor will have two very different examples of legacies to work with — let's hope he uses them wisely.

What do you think Boris Johnson's legacy for London? Tell us in the comments.

Last Updated 06 May 2016