The tight control over Transport for London that was seized and exerted by Boris Johnson’s national government during the pandemic was prominently reported by On London at the time, and the now former TfL Commissioner, Andy Byford, spoke towards the end of his tenure of the “never-ending, exhausting, frustrating, negotiations” over the series of short-term funding deals that were a feature of the period. Now, another of those who had to deal with the micromanagement of TfL’s affairs by Johnson’s close lieutenants has publicly shared a recollection of some of what went on.
Speaking on LBC last week in response to Rishi Sunak ordering a “review” of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), Heidi Alexander, who was Sadiq Khan’s Deputy Mayor for Transport from 2018 until the end of 2021, told presenter Iain Dale about the “ring-fenced pots of money” to be spent on them that were written in to the funding deals, and revealed for the first time that Johnson’s transport special adviser, Andrew Gilligan, “used to come in to Transport for London when the office was empty with a map of exactly where he wanted to put bollards on streets in London”. She added: “That’s not an exaggeration, that’s completely the truth.”
Gilligan (pictured) was given his Number 10 role having previously been appointed “cycling commissioner” by Johnson when he was Mayor of London despite having no previous experience of planning transport networks. Before that, Gilligan, a keen cyclist, had been a strong media supporter of Johnson during his mayoral election campaigns of 2008 and 2012. Supporters of LTNs say they encourage more cycling on London’s roads.
TfL officials of the time made known their displeasure with how Gilligan went about his work, telling journalists privately that he was “uncontrolled” by Johnson, “impolite” and a “zealot” he saw himself as “a bit of a Lone Ranger” whose presence on TfL premises some found unwelcome. However, Gilligan’s dedication to cycling won him admirers among politicians and campaigners. In an interview with a cycling publication he said it was necessary to “annoy people” to get things done.
In July 2020, under the terms of the earliest emergency pandemic funding deals, Gilligan was appointed one of two “special representatives” of the government on TfL’s board, although he made few contributions to board meetings. In September 2021. messages sent by Gilligan emerged instructing his successor at City Hall, Will Norman, about how to make what he called “backsliding councils” retain temporary cycle lanes he wanted made permanent.
Gilligan is understood to have enthusiastically approved of a government condition telling Khan to produce proposals to “widen the scope and levels” of the Congestion Charge, Low Emission Zone and Ultra Low Emission Zone, which resulted in the first of these being increased to £15 a day.
Alexander, who was the MP for Lewsisham East from 2010 until 2018 and is now Labour’s candidate for Swindon South, emphasised to Dale that Sunak had been Johnson’s Chancellor when London’s pandemic period LTNs were installed and Grant Shapps, now Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero was Johnson’s transport secretary. Shapps signed off the funding deals. Many of the temporary cycle schemes and LTNs were embraced by TfL under its “Streetspace” programme, which allocated money to boroughs to install them as well as funding its own projects, such as the cycle track on Park Lane.