The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has rebuked Westminster City Council for withdrawing its support for Oxford Street pedestrianisation plans.
Plans to scrap its support for the scheme were revealed after Westminster City Council wrote to residents on 7 June informing them that the project did not have sufficient backing.
In the letter it said: “We believe there is a very strong democratic mandate that the pedestrianisation scheme that was under consideration is not what local people want. As a result, Westminster City Council has taken the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street off the table for good.”
The decision was derided by Khan, who in a statement on Twitter said it “betrayed Londoners”.
“This will be seen as a betrayal of the million of Londoners and visitors to our city who would have benefited from making Oxford Street a safer, healthier and better environment. All of the main mayoral candidates agreed on the need for the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street at the last election, as did Westminster Council until today.
“The project was a good example of political parties putting politics aside, working together to improve our city for everyone. This now poses a real threat to the future of Oxford Street, which could not be worse timed coming on the same day House of Fraser announced they will be closing their Oxford Street store. I won’t walk away from Oxford Street. It’s too important for our city.”
The New West End Company (NWEC), which represents retailers in the area, first unveiled plans to transform Oxford Street in 2010.
Detailed proposals were submitted for consultation by Transport for London which would see all east-west traffic stopped, with a select number of north to south routes maintained. The new shopping space would have included an 800m long public artwork and raising road levels to pavement level to improve access.
In March a public consultation on the plans, which recieved 22,000 responses from residents, found that 64% supported the plans in some form.
However, a third (33%) did not support the plans, which propose a new traffic-free area between Orchard Street and Oxford Circus.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of NWEC said: “This is a disappointing and frustrating situation we find ourselves in after two years of work. We are deeply concerned that the partnership between Westminster City Council and the Mayor, which we believe is vital for the successful financing and delivery of a project of this scale, appears to have broken down.
”Westminster City Council recognise that something fundamental needs to be done to Oxford Street and therefore it is imperative that these radical changes and pace for change remain its top priority. This investment is also essential to ensure that local residents lives are not worsened by the massive influx of new visitors.
“We welcome the Mayor remaining fully committed and stating he will not walk away from Oxford Street. With 60 million extra people arriving a year by 2020 from the Elizabeth line our businesses are more determined than ever to see urgent measures in place to address safety and air quality concerns and that a scheme is brought forward which is fit for 21st century retailing.
”It is imperative the politicians protect and safeguard the jobs of the 80,000 employees on Oxford Street and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that this generational opportunity is not lost for the nation’s high street.”
A statement from the leader of Westminster CIty Council, cllr Nickie Aiken said: “Westminster City Council is hugely ambitious for Oxford St and we will do everything we can to ensure the district’s long term success in the face of a challenging and ever changing economic and retail environment. We will now look to develop fresh plans to achieve this, but we can confirm that the council does not support the full scale pedestrianisation of Oxford Street and believes a rethink of the whole strategy is now required.
“As the local council, we need to make sure that everyone can benefit from improvements, not just certain groups. I utterly reject any suggestion that there is any kind of betrayal. Quite the contrary, we are sticking up for the people who know best, those who live and work in the district. It was clear through two public consultations and recent council elections that local people do not support the pedestrianisation proposals.
“But doing nothing to improve the area is not an option either if we are to maximise the potential benefits from the opening of the Elizabeth Line. We must future-proof Oxford St and the surrounding district so it remains the pre-eminent shopping district in the UK and maintains its crown as the nation’s high street. The news that the House of Fraser will be closing their Oxford Street store only confirms our view that we all have to work harder to help the retail industry to grow and evolve, not simply stand still or just focus on traffic.
“We are now working on our own proposals to improve the Oxford Street district and will share them with residents, business and visitors for discussion in the early Autumn.”