London Mayor Sadiq Khan says London’s Oxford Street risks losing its reputation as a world-class shopping destination after plans to pedestrianise the street – which is the busiest but most polluted shopping street in Europe – were ditched by Westminster City Council.
In a letter to the council’s leader Nickie Aiken, Khan said the street, which is closed to private traffic but generally choc-a-bloc with taxis and buses, was an “overcrowded and poor-quality public realm”, blighted by heavy traffic, pollution and road danger.
He also pressed the point that the structural changes being faced by the retail sector, including the shift to online shopping, meant the street needed to do all it could to attract shoppers. Last month House of Fraser revealed that it would be closing its flagship store, which takes up a whole block of Oxford Street, leaving a large gap to fill.
“Ultimately, the risk of not proceeding with ambitious and meaningful change is a risk to London’s future competitiveness on the national and international stage,” Khan wrote. “This has implications not only for the businesses of Oxford Street, but the economies of London and the UK, and ultimately all of our constituents.”
Two public consultations on the bold plans drawn up by Khan’s office and Transport for London, which initially appeared to be supported by the council, came down in favour of the idea to pedestrianise the west stretch from Oxford Circus to Orchard Street (adjacent to Selfridges).
However residents in Mayfair, Soho, Fitzrovia and Marylebone complained that the plans did not sufficiently take into account the knock-on affect of traffic in the neighbouring areas. They also maintained that they had not been given a full opportunity to object to the plans as an incorrect email had been published.
As part of the public consultations about a million people were contacted between 6 November 2017 and 3 January 2018, asking if they supported the proposals. Transport for London and Westminster City Council received 14,377 responses, with 64% either supporting the project outright or backing the plans with “some concerns about certain elements”. An earlier consultation received 62% support.
Westminster’s Aiken had claimed that the results did not constitute strong public support and said that the recent local council elections had revealed the strength of the opposition to the plans from residents. Last month she said the plans would be taken “off the table for good”.
Businesses in the area are widely supportive of the scheme and the New West End Company, which represents them, had also vowed to keep applying pressure to Westminster Council to come up with a viable alternative to the initial plans.
Some 500,000 visitors a day go to Oxford Street and with the arrival of the Elizabeth Line in December of this year, visitor numbers are expected to increase by 40%. It had initially been hoped that the pedestrianisation would be carried out in time for the opening of the new rail link.