The Airport Guy

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Image from the Thames Hub: an integrated vision for Britain, published by Foster and Partners, Halcrow and Volterra

The all-to brief appointment of Daniel Moylan as chairman of the London Legacy Development Company marks a sea-change in the development landscape in London. His departure, after just 7 weeks, marks the end of an 8 year period during which the Olympics where the main architecture, construction and development story in the British capital. The fact that he has moved to head up London Mayor Boris Johnson’s proposed review of airport capacity shows that a real political struggle is about to take place over the future of London’s airports and that the Olympic Park is secondary. For a long time, Johnson’s support of the Thames Hub proposal – despite its genuine credentials as a serious alternative to expansion at Heathrow – have been seen as something of a joke. Moving Moylan – one of his most trusted advisors – to aviation policy shows how far he’s willing to go with it.  

Moylan only has ideas to argue with, albeit persuasive ones. In November 2011, Foster and Partners together with Halcrow and economists Volterra published a report which placed the airport needs in a wider context. It would be integrated into the need for  a new Thames barrier crossing that extends the flood protection to London out towards the Thames Gateway, and so the report had it, “into the 22nd century.” The barrier would harness tidal power to generate carbon-free energy. The airport would be linked into Crossrail and later High Speed rail links running further north of LOndon via a four-track, high-speed passenger and freight Orbital Rail route around London. The estuary airport, would be capable of handling 150 million passengers per annum, thus enabling the UK to retain its global aviation hub status. Although he dallied with the idea, the Olympics has clearly given Johnson the belief that this can be pulled off.

It’s not simply his ambition that’s leading the Tory grandee down this route. Johnson doesn’t want to lose votes on the back of a volte-face on the third runway at Heathrow. Moylan is being looked too to now for his fabled  ability to remove obstacles. It is to the detriment of the legacy of the Olympics that he is being dragged of it because his involvement would have given the project the direction it badly needed. His predecessor at the London Legacy Development Corporation, Baroness Margaret Ford rose to prominence in the regeneration industry as it was understood in the first decade of this century. Working with ex-industrial sites firstly on the west coast of Scotland but then in northern England, she was very much a creature of Blair’s development agencies. These were large, state-subsidised bodies which may have guilded the way for developers to frequently build the wrong kind of housing that was needed but at least got houses built.

Moylan is something else altogether. In person, the man who will help Johnson get his airport is prickly and suspicious, but he is also incredibly quick and admirably frank. Like Ford, he has spent time working in the banking sector, but unlike her he’s a Tory, a passionate free-marketeer but in social terms a libertarian, a combination that endears him to Boris Johnson who, oddly perhaps, considers himself as such. Although Moylan was rejected by Tory grandees as a candidate for Conservative party MP in Kensington and Chelsea in favour of the more fragrant Alan Clark, he was later elected to the borough’s council in 1990 and still stands as councillor for the Queen’s Ward there. It was through his position as Deputy Leader of the Council, which he took over in 2000, that his interest in public realm and planning emerged.

His interest and determination not to mention his taste are not to be underestimated. As a councillor, his greatest achievement has been the transformation of Kensington High Street, where unnecessary street furniture was  removed in a process that earned Moylan the rare accolade for a Tory councillor of an honorary fellowship to RIBA. He went on to face down the blind and partially sited by introducing the shared space scheme on Exhibition Road in South Kensington and rolling out a classy, if everso slightly bland Yorkstone-flagged top-end version of a Jan Gehl pedestrian schemes throughout his borough. He’s clearly excited by the architecture of the Olympics site however. He said: “when the wings come down, you will be able to see the real beauty of the Aquatic Centre” It now looks as if a decision on the stadium will be delayed further. Before he left Moylan claimed it had been “a difficult issue” but that the Corporation were “working progressively towards finding a solution.”  A decision expected in October may now be later.

Even during his brief spell as the Chairman of the board, it was clear that he also had his eye on the bigger prize, not unlike Johnson to whom his political fate is very firmly attached. Unlike the previous regime in Stratford, he was not afraid to emphasises the potential for employment in the 4 million square feet of office space within the park. Johnson who is ostensibly taking his place at the LLDC will no doubt concur that the model for how this will be delivered is likely to emphasise smallness. He too will be non-committal about whether he prefers a large corporation or smaller body which franchises or contracts work out largely because there is much work to be done to change the park into what is called legacy mode. But like Moylan he too will prefer a small legacy corporation in the long run.

With his boss partly coerced and partly drawn to the Thames Hub strategy, Moylan who has been on the board of Transport for London since Boris was elected mayor is also finding remit his remit dramatically widening. Moylan now finds himself going very much against the grain of thinking at the top of the Conservative party as he takes up Johnson’s battle against Heathrow expansion but he’s a man who burns with a hitherto thwarted ambition.

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About cosmopolitanscum

Journalist, writer, commentator, blogging about architecture, urbanism and design from a humanist perspective.
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