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Boris picks up Ken's urban design legacy

Day one, gaffe one. Even before he officially signed on as the new London Mayor on Saturday 3 May, Boris Johnson had managed to confuse Norman Foster with Richard Rogers.

Stumbling up to the podium, he mistakenly praised Rogers for designing the Greater London Authority HQ in Southwark.

But at least he noticed the architecture. In urban design terms the Conservative candidate has a lot to live up to when compared with his predecessor Ken Livingstone, who commissioned the London Plan and launched the 100 Public Spaces drive. Islington-based architect Chris Roche says Livingstone has ‘done more for London, and for architecture, than any other politician in recent history’.

John McAslan, whose practice is one of 40 shortlisted on the framework panel, says: ‘I’m no Boris supporter and I’d be amazed if he performed as well as Ken.

‘The former Mayor’s contribution has been enormous and maybe the third term would have proved him to be a great Mayor rather than simply a good one.

He added: ‘He has begun so many projects which would have been his legacy and which I hope Boris continues with.’

In fact it was hard to find an architect who was jubilant about the result.

However Johnson’s manifesto does not suggest he in any way intends to stop these schemes. He wants the 50,000 affordable homes promised in his manifesto by 2011 to be ‘functional and beautiful’ – ‘dwellings of distinction and grace’. He has also pledged to plant 10,000 more street trees in the capital.

And Tony Fretton, a Labour Party member, is not convinced the change will be so detrimental to the city. He said: ‘Obviously Boris was not my first choice. But he is not a hard-line Conservative who is about to reverse trends.

‘Though in ideology Boris is different to Ken, in practical terms the difference could be pretty small.’

What is widely agreed is that Johnson needs expert help. Westminster City Council leader Simon Milton is already on the team as planning advisor, and Richard Rogers – Livingstone’s personal guide to architecture – has not ruled himself out of lending his advice to Johnson.

Nor has Terry Farrell. The AJ has learned that Johnson went to see Farrell earlier this year to learn about the urban design challenges facing London. Farrell says: ‘Boris showed intense interest, although he had a lot to catch up on, like a lot of politicians who change offices.

‘I was told that he would definitely be in touch once elected. But [the advisor] role situation needs to be more open than with Richard and Ken. And London needs more than Richard Rogers’ one voice.’

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