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In Detail: What is the future for London's Oxford Street?

Tom Shearsmith
01 January 1970

Globally recognised as one of the world's best shopping destinations, Oxford Street has lost its attraction since the COVID-19 pandemic began. With the street facing less UK and international tourists and a three lockdown orders in a year, the West End legend is reaching a point of no return.

The Present Day:

Formally the premier shopping destination for shoppers and tourists, most retailers down the legendary street are now struggling to pull in visitors, especially in the fashion industry.

Oxford Street continues to lose its once iconic businesses, HMV, TM Lewin, Vero Moda, Aldo and many other businesses have closed retail stores entirely, or relocated since 2010.

Local data shows that over 9% of space down Oxford Street is currently vacant, with 24 of 264 publicly recognised units standing empty. Vacancies may be one problem, but another is the type of businesses currently occupying once-prime real estate.

Over 20 souvenir gift shops or American candy stores now occupy spaces that previously were rented to brands including Swarovski, JD Sports

New West End Company, which represents over 600 businesses and retailers in London, recently warned that more than 50,000 retail and hospitality jobs will be lost when the latest lockdown ends, with 1/5 of Oxford Street “boarded up with no hope of recovery”.

In the last 3 months, big name retailers including Sports Direct, Topshop, Next and Gap have all closed stores on the iconic street, with Gap indicating it will close its other store (the flagship) before July 2021.

Looking further back, since 2012 59 fashion and beauty retail units have closed down Oxford Street: 33 East and 26 West. Some have simply moved, whilst others have left the street entirely or gone out of business. visited Oxford Street in December 2020 to look at pre-Christmas trading:

Oxford Street East:




Oxford Street West:




The Future:

Crossrail, now known as the Elizabeth Line, was promised to "not only deliver major new stations in the West End but transform the areas around the stations". Over 12 years since work officially began, no business can report any positive impact.

With three Crossrail sites along Oxford Street (Tottenham Court Road, Tottenham Court Road's second exit at Dean Street, and Bond Street) and a total of over 15 years between the project starting and completion, has enough been done to encourage businesses to move to Oxford Street?

Crossrail recently unveiled an inside look at the finished Tottenham Court Road station:

Crossrail is officially expected to open in the first half of 2022, but spoke to Jace Tyrrell, CEO of New West End Company, who confirmed that Andy Byford,  London’s Transport Commissioner, stated it will actually open its central stations for Christmas 2021.

Oxford Street is also soon to see redevelopment as part of the newly announced £150 million OSD plan, which will see a pedestrian first approach and zero emission transport network. 2022 has been described as a "year of delivery" for Oxford Street, with a large number of immediate projects getting under way within weeks in preparation.

Scrapped proposal for pedestrianisation

Scrapped proposal for pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, the new "pedestrian-first" approach will look much different. (2018)

The first phase of the strategy involves plans to install a temporary scheme on Oxford Street itself, with the aim of showcasing innovation, sustainability, culture and diversity. Quick-win interventions that could be delivered by late Spring 2021 present an exciting opportunity to test and experiment, as the first step towards the longer-term revitalisation of the district.

The temporary interventions could reinvigorate and reimagine the nation’s high street for new patterns of use, safely welcoming people back to the district post-lockdown, with an atmosphere of celebration.

The scheme will see increased footway space on Oxford Street to enable safe, distanced access to the district. The proposals also include complementary streetscape changes designed to improve the look and feel of the area, and create enlivenment and atmosphere; additional greening and seating.

Initial proposed locations for the temporary scheme including planned footway widening at the following locations:

  • West Oxford Street: Marble Arch islands, Bird Street junction, Davies Street junction, outside Selfridges
  • Oxford Circus: Hills Place junction, Great Titchfield Street/ Market Place, Winsley Street junction, Old Cavendish Street junction, Holles Street junction
  • East Oxford Street: Newman Street junction, Rathbone Place junction and Soho Square

Westminster City Council Leader Rachael Robathan said: "This ambitious and comprehensive framework is the blueprint for how we will work with our partners to reinvent successfully the Oxford Street District for decades to come. This is something we’d committed to long before the pandemic, but the last year has underlined why it’s so important."

As part of's In Detail Podcast series, Jace Tyrrell talked us through business rates, the Elizabeth Line and who or what might fill those empty spaces on Oxford Street:

When COVID-19 restrictions are completely lifted and when the Elizabeth Line is finally opened to the public, the famous street could turn a new page. Between now and then, there needs to be continued investment, a revitalisation of businesses and a continued interest in leaving behind the attitude of staying indoors.

There is hope for Oxford Street, but it needs direction.

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