London’s Westminster City Council has confirmed that plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street in central London have been “taken off the table for good”. The council’s leader said “the majority of its residents” disputed the proposals to make it traffic-free.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, for whom the plans amounted to a flagship policy, described the move as a “betrayal” and claimed he “won’t walk away from the project”. He said the move “poses a real threat to the future of Oxford Street”.
Under the proposed plans, all east-west traffic would have been stopped, although some north-south routes would have been maintained. Mr Khan had hoped the pedestrianisation would coincide with the arrival of the Elizabeth Line later this year. However, Westminster City Council leader Nickie Aiken said a “rethink of the whole strategy” was required. In a statement she said: “It was clear through two public consultations and recent council elections that local people do not support the pedestrianisation proposals.”
Mr Khan described Westminster City Council’s decision as a “betrayal of millions of Londoners” and that the plans to make Oxford Street traffic-free would have made it “a safer, healthier and better environment”. He added “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 its Oxford Street store.”
Mr Khan may have seen the pedestrianisation project as his legacy for his first term, but Oxford Street belongs to Westminster City Council, who need to consider multiple aspects. Until fairly recently, Westminster councillors also favoured the plan and were working together to promote the project. However, their support for the plans fell away during the recent local elections when they found that local residents, smaller businesses and cyclists were angered by the plans, and felt their opinions were being ignored.
It is undeniable that Oxford Street needs better management and suffers from high levels of pollution – mostly caused by bus and taxi emissions – but the standard kneejerk ‘ban cars’ chorus isn’t going to win the day any time soon. Instead of trying to tax or bully working class Londoners out of their cars and into the extortionately exensive, inconvenient, cramped, polluting and strike-happy union controlled public transport system, perhaps Mr Khan should forget vanity projects and take a long and hard look at long-term projects that offer genuine benefit to London.
We know that with his incoming promise to reduce knife and gang crime in London starting to resemble a quote from Alice in Wonderland, Mr Khan needs to be able to say he did something while in office, but surely he has more up his sleeve than just another attack on car drivers?