Westminster Council is to start work on its alternative to pedestrianising Oxford Street without using £400,000 from Transport for London (TfL) it had initially earmarked towards the cost, following objections from London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
A budget of £727,000 was agreed by the council’s cabinet on Monday, coming entirely from its own funds, to develop what it calls a “place-based strategy” for the street and its surrounding areas, having “decided to “take the full scale pedestrianisation of Oxford Street off the table as an option”.
The Conservative-run borough announced shortly before the borough elections on 3 May that it intended to pull the plug on a pedestrianisation scheme it had been putting together over the preceding two years in partnership with TfL, Khan’s then deputy mayor for transport Valerie Shawcross, the Oxford Street area’s major retailers and others.
Khan, who made an election manifesto pledge to “work with Westminster Council, local businesses, Transport for London and taxis to pedestrianise Oxford Street” reacted strongly to Westminster – which is the authority that controls and has responsibility for Oxford Street – pulling the plug on the scheme, calling it a “betrayal” and telling Westminster leader Nickie Aitken by letter that no TfL money could be spent “without prior discussion and agreement”.
Aitken has replied, saying “I would like to reiterate to you, and all Londoners, Westminster City Council’s absolute commitment to bringing forward ambitious plans that will improve and future proof Oxford Street and the surrounding district for many generations to come,” but also asserting that it is “unquestionably apparent” that “the majority of Westminster residents who responded to previous consultations, as well as a significant number of businesses, did not support the proposals to pedestrianise Oxford Street.”
Describing pedestrianisation as “a limited proposal”, she contrasted it with her wish for “an ambitious and coherent district wide scheme” which would “protect and enhance our iconic neighbourhoods such as Soho, Fitzrovia and Marylebone.” Some residents in those areas and others had expressed concerns that traffic would be displaced in their streets, something TfL disputes.
Labour won its first ever council seat in West End ward in May, with its candidates there taking the side of unhappy residents against the plans of the Labour Mayor. Thier success has confirmed the view of some interested parties that political considerations played a part in Westminster’s change of heart.
It is believed that respected public realm and urban design specialists Publica are to work on Westminster’s new project, which is timetabled to produce options for public consultation in November.
Photograph from Visit London.