Westminster City Council has agreed a budget and plan for a complete transformation of the Oxford Street district after falling out with Transport for London and the London Mayor’s office over their proposals to pedestrianise the west side of the globally renowned shopping street.
The council’s cabinet has agreed to plans, which it will carry out without the support and financial backing of TfL, that cover the length of the street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch and which will cost £727,000.
Last month TfL and the Mayor of London’s plans to pedestrianise the stretch of the street from Oxford Circus to Selfridges were taken of the table “for good” by the council after complaints from residents in Soho, Mayfair, Fitzrovia and Marylebone that the plans did not sufficiently address the potential knock-on affect of traffic in the neighbouring areas.
The council has now devised its own plans entitled, a Place Based Strategy, that will go to public consultation in November and which aim to address the long term challenges facing the district including poor air quality, the changing nature of retail and safety issues related to the opening of the new east-west rail link, Elizabeth Line, this winter.
It has said that feedback on the previous plans suggested it needed a wider focus on the area in general and that “the ambition is to have a world class, area wide solution that will ensure Oxford Street retains its status as the nation’s high street in a rapidly evolving retail environment.”
Retailers and businesses had expressed concerns that the pedestrianisation plans had been scrapped saying that, while Oxford Street was the busiest shopping street in Europe, it was also the most polluted and faced road safety issues due to the volume of footfall. Mayor Sadiq Khan expressed concern that Oxford Street would lose its global reputation unless it took bold action to address these issues and pointed to the forthcoming loss of the House of Fraser store, that takes up a whole block of the street, as evidence it could start to lose its appeal as a leading retail destination.
Within its plans the council has outlined “more space for people to enjoy new and reinvigorated public places that are greener, less polluted, and seamlessly connected to each other and the wider West End. The scheme will enhance the rich heritage of this historic area with complementary changes in planning policy to enable greater diversity that will bring new vibrancy, new life and sustainable economic growth with innovative retail experiences at the core of the offer.”
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Leader of Westminster City Council, said: “Our exciting vision and the plans we have agreed for the Oxford Street district will give residents and businesses the certainty they want as we deliver ambitious plans that will improve and future proof Oxford Street for many generations to come. There is a necessity to vastly enhance the overall experience for residents, workers and those visiting the district and this is the focus of the new project. Our fresh scheme will respond to safety issues related to the opening of the Elizabeth Line and will then transform the Oxford Street district into a global, iconic destination.
“Our coherent and district wide solution will be much more than a transport scheme. It will ensure Oxford Street retains its status as the nation’s high street in a rapidly evolving retail environment and is renowned as a must visit destination by visitors from London, the UK and overseas.”
Over the summer the council will carry out an audit and engagement with residents and other stakeholders to establish issues, priorities, vision and projects for the district. It will then produce a place based strategy to inform the development of preferred solutions for the district. A public consultation will follow in November with a view to implementing the plan in January 2019.