Westminster City Council put a stop to Sadiq Khan’s plan to make Oxford Street traffic-free and branded the scheme ‘unacceptable’.
The mayor unveiled plans to pedestrianize the busy shopping district in November last year, and hoped it would be completed by December 2018. The project was intended to address air quality concerns, reduce the high number of collisions (around 60 a year) and severe overcrowding during the busiest parts of the day.
Reportedly, around 3.5 million people visit Oxford Street each week. The Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street area alone contributes to around £7.6bn each year to the UK economy.
Khan said at the time: “Oxford Street is world famous with millions of visitors every year, and in just over a year the iconic part of the street west of Oxford Circus could be transformed into a traffic-free pedestrian boulevard.
“Whether you’re a local resident, a business, or shop in some of the area’s famous stores, our plans will make the area substantially cleaner and safer for everyone, creating one of the finest public spaces in the world.”
He had hoped to start with an 800-metre section near Marble Arch, from Oxford Circus to Orchard Street.
The plans were criticised after it was unveiled cyclists would also be banned from the road, despite proposals for ‘some modest improvements to Wigmore Street, Harewood Place and Holles Street for cyclists, amongst other users’ and for a ‘high-quality east-west cycle route to the north of Oxford Street.’.
Westminster City Council cabinet member for planning and public realm Daniel Astaire told officials that all works on the pedestrianisation plan have to cease.
He said: “TfL and the mayor are the main proponents of the changes to the street, but it belongs to the council and the decision rests with us.
“I have informed them — much to some surprise — that detailed work on a scheme is to be stopped. They had even wanted to appoint an artist to design street concept art, but I have stopped this too. At present, there is no scheme nor proposal, which is acceptable to the council.”
Residents of the surrounding areas of Marylebone, Fitzrovia and Mayfair were also concerned that the plans would result in traffic being diverted unfavourably elsewhere, claiming that the pedestrianising of Oxford Street was not the answer to the ‘Better Oxford Street Campaign’.
According to Astaire, Westminster could only back a plan that addressed the concerns of residents and warned that any legal move by TfL to take control of Oxford Street, could take four years.
When the proposal was first launched by the mayor, Westminster deputy leader Robert Davis accompanied him in gaining support from the council. Davis, however, stepped aside from his role while he is investigated over bribery claims. According to TfL bosses, the most recent round of consultation revealed a 64% outright or partial support for the scheme. It later emerged that many responses from residents had not been recorded because TfL had given out an incorrect email address, which forced the TfL to extend the deadline to 6 April.
Astaire said that ‘the overwhelming majority of Westminster’s residents and businesses’ were opposed to the pedestrianisation plans.
A spokesperson for the mayor said: “The transformation of Oxford Street is a joint project between Westminster council, TfL and the mayor… We continue to work closely with Westminster council to look at all the latest consultation responses in detail, and ensure everyone’s views are taken on board before a final proposed scheme is presented.”