Mayor Boris Johnson recently made the surprise announcement that Daily Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan would be his new part-time cycling commissioner. Gilligan will advise both the mayor and Transport for London on cycling policy, and will be paid a £38,000 salary to work two days per week.
Gilligan, who previously worked for the Standard and the BBC (where he was most famous for his role in the 'dodgy dossier' story at the time of the Iraq war), is due to unveil a new strategy on how to get a significant rise in cycling levels and bike safety in London.
The appointment is surprising for several reasons. Firstly, Gilligan has a record of criticising the mayor's cycling initiatives but has expressed broader support more recently, in particular for the cycle lanes along Stratford High Street.
Gilligan also lacks the in-depth knowledge of cycling that's apparent in many quarters. For example, the very specific suggestions made in the London Cycling Campaign's Love London, Go Dutch campaign.
It's been seen by many as a political appointment rather than one necessarily in the interests of cycling and riders. At the time of the 2008 mayoral election, Gilligan was at the centre of stories surrounding Ken Livingstone that were widely seen as benefiting mayor Johnson.
Responding to news of Andrew Gilligan’s appointment, Jenny Jones, leader of the London Assembly Green Party, former deputy mayor of London and a person with a special interest in cycling, said:
"Gilligan is an odd choice for Cycling Czar, and I wonder if he realises how much pressure there will be on him to overcome his reputation while also delivering real cycling improvements very quickly. Boris may find that Gilligan poses more problems than he solves."
Speaking exclusively to BikeRadar, Jones' press office said, "The key thing with anyone in Gilligan's position is how much control they will have over the cycling budget and indeed how big the cycling budget will be; we still haven't had a detailed breakdown of the cycling spend over the next 10 years that Boris has talked about."
They added: "The second important thing is how much influence Gilligan will have over the ongoing junction review process, and in particular the big examples such as Elephant and Castle and Kings Cross, which are coming up. Will he really get stuck in and insist that cyclists have to be safe? In that sense, it's not so much about the personality but more about power and ability to do things."