London 2012: Boris defends 'Hiroshima' tube messages amid 'ghost town' claims


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The Independent Online

London Mayor Boris Johnson has countered criticisms that his "Hiroshima tube announcements" have discouraged people from coming into the capital during the Olympics. 

As West End theatres and restaurants complained about a huge drop in customers, the Mayor said: “I think  everybody blames my kind of Hiroshima Tube announcement.

“But actually if you look at what really happened there was a massive amount of media, and every time I was asked about the Olympics on TV they said, ‘It’s going to be a meltdown, it will never work’. 

“That fear proved groundless. We have a city that is running brilliantly and it’s incredibly, powerfully positive for London.”

Messages played on the London Underground, in which Mr Johnson warned commuters about how busy the transport network would be during the Games, were discontinued this week.

He recorded a new announcement designed to encourage people back, but scrapped it after data suggested things were picking up. Sources said the new message would have said: “I thank you for keeping clear of the really big travel hotspots at the busiest time. Don’t forget to enjoy the full benefits of London during the Games.”

Firms say footfall in theatreland and the shopping focal point of the West End was down almost five per cent and the Mayor admitted the Games were having a “patchy” effect on some businesses. “What I would say to everybody is enjoy London now — this is our moment. This is a moment for the city,” he said. “Everywhere I go I meet people enjoying the city as never before.”

City Hall observers pointed out the Mayor did not join in the Government’s campaign to persuade people to work from home during the Games.

Prime Minister David Cameron  urged visitors to “start coming back” to spend money in the West End and denied warnings about transport problems were “overblown”. He said: “We’ve shown the capital isn’t in meltdown, the traffic jams aren’t as bad as people thought, and I think people can start coming back to spend money in shops, restaurants and the rest of it.”

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said yesterday it was “complete nonsense” to say London was a ghost town.

However, his claim was undermined today by the disclosure that ticket sales for tours of the House of Commons have plummeted by about 1,000 per day — approximately a third of the usual figure — resulting in lost revenues of up to £105,000.