Boris Johnson: 'Heathrow chaos must teach BAA serious lesson'

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The Independent Online

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said airport operator BAA had "very serious lessons" to learn from the chaos caused at Heathrow by this month's snowfall.

Speaking at the Westfield Shopping Centre in west London, Mr Johnson said: "I have been going on about this now for two, three, four days and I think honestly people have been wondering why it took so long to get planes going after the last snow flake fell on Heathrow.

"I really hope BAA is learning some very serious lessons; they have got to be ready next time."

The mayor said he was sure there would be a "mega investigation" into why the airport had been so affected by the severe weather.

Mr Johnson denied that the problems at airports, train stations and the Eurostar had been embarrassing for London.

He said: "I think we've got a great British habit of beating ourselves up but I think if you look at the services in London, the tubes and the buses didn't too badly at all.

"I think overall the parts of London that Transport for London is responsible for did pretty well, but it's a tough few says."

Mr Johnson said Transport for London had not yet had to reach into its strategic reserves of road grit and that gritting by borough councils seemed to be "holding up pretty well".

The Mayor was visiting the shopping centre ahead of the scrapping of the Western Extension Zone of the congestion charge, which covers west London.

The final charging day of the Western Extension will be December 24 after which drivers will only need to pay for the original central London Congestion Charging Zone, which was introduced in 2003.

While Mr Johnson found that most last-minute Christmas shoppers were supportive of scrapping the Extension, one mother told him: "I think it's the wrong thing. I know that's not what you want to hear."

Amanda Waggott, 44, of Notting Hill, said the increased daily charge to £10 would cost her more on the school run.

Mr Johnson said: "The Western Extension Zone was imposed on London and when people were consulted on it they said they didn't want it but the previous mayor bunged it on nonetheless.

"This is a function of democracy, and it's the right thing to do."

Mr Johnson referred to his predecessor Ken Livingstone as "Voldermort" and said "He failed to consult and then he overruled public opinion.

"I'm very pleased that we did the right thing by the people of London."

He said the estimated £50m that would be lost in revenue from scrapping the Western Extension Zone was a "comparatively small cost".

He added: "I think the best way to tackle pollution is not to impose new taxes on drivers but to bring in newer, greener vehicles."

On January 4 a voluntary Auto Pay system will be introduced to automatically charge drivers the correct amount for driving inside the Congestion Charge zone.

The mayor would not comment on claims made by Business Secretary Vince Cable to reporters from the Daily Telegraph posing as constituents.

But Mr Johnson, who is a columnist for the newspaper, joked while standing next to schoolchildren: "You've got to spot the undercover Telegraph reporters."

The Mayor also briefly met Father Christmas outside Santa's Grotto and asked him whether he had to pay Congestion Charge on his sleigh.

Father Christmas replied: "I've got a complete exemption for the whole universe."

London Chamber of Commerce chief executive Colin Stanbridge said he was pleased Mr Johnson had scrapped the extension which had "only achieved minimal reductions in congestion while putting off many people from coming into the West End to shop".

But Val Shawcross, Labour's transport spokesperson on the London Assembly, said scrapping the extension was one of the "worst decisions this Mayor has made".