Westminster Council’s proposals for what it calls a “place based” approach to addressing the Oxford Street area’s congestion and air quality problems do not amount to the “transformative plan” required, according to Britain’s leading campaign group for pedestrians.
Living Streets, which has argued the case for making walking journeys easier since 1929, described the council’s proposals as “a step in the right direction” but insufficient for meeting the challenges of Oxford Street itself or the “traffic domination” of the surrounding area.
Westminster published draft plans on Tuesday for what it calls the Oxford Street District, following its decision in July to pull the plug on a major pedestrianisation scheme it had spent two years devising in partnership with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Transport for London (TfL), major retailers and residents’ groups.
Rejecting the full pedestrianisation of Oxford Street itself, the council argues that its “long term, ambitious vision” for the area will nonetheless “strengthen its world renowned status as a great place to live, work and visit”. It identifies “96 projects across 87 streets and spaces in nine zones”, which it says “reflect varying character from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road”.
It lists among “key principles for the “district“, which also encompasses parts of the adjacent Mayfair and Carnaby areas to the south of Oxford Street and Marylebone and Fitzrovia to its north, as prioritising walking as “the main form of movement” within it, making it “inclusive, accessible and liveable”, enriching its cultural and artistic elements and improving connections between different parts of it.
However, Living Streets, which has made the pedestrianisation of Britain’s most famous shopping street a flagship project, advocates what Jeremy Leach of its London Group calls the “more radical approach” of developing “low traffic neighbourhoods”, reductions in on-street parking including by raising parking charges and, in the longer term, road-user charging.
Westminster’s change of heart about the original pedestrianisation plan has been attributed by critics to disproportionate political influence from well-connected local residents’ groups which complained that buses and other motorised traffic would be diverted through their streets, adversely affecting their quality of life. The ruling Conservatives under the relatively new leadership of Nickie Aiken had been concerned about losing significant numbers of seats in May’s borough elections. Labour candidates had also criticised the original plans. One of them, Pancho Lewis, became the first ever Labour councillor for the affluent West End ward.
Mayor Khan described the abandonment of the full pedestrianisation scheme by Westminster, which, as the highway authority for Oxford Street, had always had the power to scupper it, as a “betrayal” of Londoners and a waste of the £8 million TfL had already spent on developing it. He also withheld £400,000 of TfL funding earmarked for Westminster to spend on local transport projects.
Oxford Street is the main artery through the heart of London’s West End, which local business group the New West End Company has estimated will contribute £11 billion to the UK’s economy by 2020. The opening of the Crossrail Elizabeth Line, which is now scheduled to take place next autumn, is expected to greatly increase the demand for pedestrian space around the Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street stations in particular.
The Oxford Street District consultation will be open until 16 December 2018.