Council withdraws support for Oxford St pedestrianisation

Westminster city council has withdrawn its support for proposals to remove cars from one of London’s busiest roads – Oxford Street – after concluding that residents and businesses opposed the plans.

Proposals were announced by the council, alongside the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in November, which would have seen a 0.5 mile area of road closed to east-west traffic between Orchard Street and Oxford Circus, whilst maintaining north-south routes through that section (see airqualitynews.com story).

An artist’s impression of how a traffic-free Oxford Street would look

With a proposed start date of December – to coincide with the opening of the Elizabeth Line rail service, the plans would have included re-routing traffic including cars and buses to run along different roads and raising the carriageway to provide an easier environment for walking.

However, following a consultation period which saw over 22,000 responses, Westminster city council has concluded that there is not sufficient support to implement the proposals.

Concerns were raised during the consultation over the impact that the proposals would have on air quality in surrounding areas, if polluting vehicles are moved onto other nearby roads. However, more than 64% of the responses received broadly backed the proposals.

Ambition

In a statement issued today, Westminster city council leader, Cllr Nickie Aiken, said “Westminster city council is hugely ambitious for Oxford St and we will do everything we can to ensure the district’s long term success in the face of a challenging and ever changing economic and retail environment. We will now look to develop fresh plans to achieve this, but we can confirm that the council does not support the full scale pedestrianisation of Oxford Street and believes a rethink of the whole strategy is now required.

“As the local council, we need to make sure that everyone can benefit from improvements, not just certain groups. I utterly reject any suggestion that there is any kind of betrayal. Quite the contrary, we are sticking up for the people who know best, those who live and work in the district. It was clear through two public consultations and recent council elections that local people do not support the pedestrianisation proposals.

Oxford Street is one of the busiest shopping streets in the country, attracting around 220 million pedestrians per year.

However, the road also regularly breaches national and European limits for air quality and has been singled out in the past as having among the “highest NO2 levels in the world”.

After withdrawing its support for the proposals, the council said it is working new plans to ‘improve the Oxford Street district’ which will be shared with residents, businesses and visitors for discussion in the early Autumn.

‘Betrayal’

Westminster’s U-turn has been criticised by the Mayor of London, who described the change of tack as a ‘betrayal of millions of Londoners’ who he said would have ‘benefited from making Oxford Street a safer, healthier and better environment’.

In a statement, the Mayor said: “All the main Mayoral candidates agreed on the need for the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street at the last election, as did Westminster council until today.

“The project was a good example of political parties putting politics aside, working together to improve our city for everyone.

“This now poses a real threat to the future of Oxford Street, which could not be worse timed coming on the same day House of Fraser announced they will be closing their Oxford Street store.”