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Exclusive: New West End Company battle-ready for West End ‘wall’ of buses

Retailers rail against deputy mayor’s claims that volume of buses through Oxford Street was a ‘sign of success’.

West End retailers are preparing for a ‘battle’ to convince London authorities to reduce the number of buses passing through Oxford Street, after the deputy mayor dismissed calls for action this week.

New West End Company, which on Wednesday launched its campaign to secure £25m from the district’s retailers, had made traffic reduction its number one priority, claiming at least 97% of its members had cited it as a major issue.

NWEC chief executive Richard Dickinson is targeting the “wall of red buses” that run through the main thoroughfare as part of his five-year campaign to attract more shoppers and enhance consumers’ retailing experience.

Second on his hit list is the introduction of a further 10 “oasis spaces”, sheltered areas where bargain hunters can sit and eat between hitting the shops.

But at the launch, deputy London mayor Kit Malthouse threw a spanner in the works by raising concerns about both these major pledges.

“The wall of red buses is a sign of success – it shows people are coming to the shops,” he said, adding that traffic has “a cleansing effect”, citing an influx of “drunks” into Soho after a failed traffic-free scheme.

Malthouse also warned that break out spaces could result in making the district “look like Westfield”.

But retailers are already fighting back. One told Drapers Malthouse’s comments “showed a lack of imagination” while a second said he was “very unhappy” with his stance.

Selfridges Group chief executive Paul Kelly said he was fully supportive of NWEC’s plan. He added that he would commit a low four-figure sum to encourage university students to come up with a solution to the traffic problem.

John Lewis general manager Jeremy Adams said concern focused around the number of empty buses rather than traffic in general, emphasising the need for customers to use all forms of public transport.

“If the buses were all full I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but the fact is it’s a wall of empty buses. Volume doesn’t necessarily show success,” he said.

NWEC figures suggest that only 11% to 20% of shoppers in the district travel by bus, although there are 300 an hour, even during off peak hours.

Dickinson – who is organising a global congress to discuss traffic management on November 15 – said he was preparing to “battle”. 

“We need to make sure we have what’s right for shoppers and commuters rather than bus companies,” he said.

Authorities were guilty of “inertia”, he added. “But we don’t have to accept that just because it hasn’t been solved before it can’t be now.”

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