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Millions betrayed by collapse of Oxford Street scheme, claims humiliated Mayor Khan

Promises of car free Oxford Street by the end of the year lie in tatters

15 June, 2018 — By Tom Foot

How Oxford Street could  have looked

COUNCIL leader Nickie Aiken has defended her decision to call a halt to the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan blasted her for a “betrayal of millions of Londoners”.

Westminster Council humiliated the mayor’s office this week by officially dropping out of the project they had been supporting and promoting together.

The mayor had said Oxford Street would be pedestrianised by the end of this year but Cllr Aiken now says the council “does not support the full- scale pedestrianisation of Oxford Street”.

Cllr Aiken said: “As the local council we need to make sure that everyone can benefit from improve- ments, 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 Street 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.”

The idea of pedestrianising Oxford Street has been in discussion for years, as a result of over- crowding and accidents.

The first stage of Sadiq Khan’s proposal was to pedestrianise the stretch to the west of Oxford Circus, filling the street with plazas, benches, and an 800-metre artwork. This

was due to be followed in 2019 by the pedestrianisation of the eastern section culminating at Tottenham Court Road, while the final section near Marble Arch was to be converted by 2020.

The council’s approach to Oxford Street has dramatically shifted from before Christmas when Robert Davis – then council deputy leader – stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr Khan for a launch of new designs.

Cllr Davis said at the time that the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

Mayor Khan claimed the massive changes would be in place by the end of this year. But his bold statements were undone by campaigning before the council elections.

Community leaders from influential neighbourhood groups north and south of Oxford Street opposed the concept out- right.

Residents had warned that cars and bus routes diverted, additional vehi- cle traffic pressure would be placed on nearby side streets by the plans.

Some came together and formed a new political party that stood in the council elections. Days before the election on May 3, the Conservative-run council – panicking about losing key wards – announced it had backed out of the plans.

The council has followed through with its promise and now Mr Khan’s scheme lies in tatters. He said: “This will be seen as a betrayal of the millions of Londoners and visitors to our city who would have benefited from making Oxford Street a safer, healthier and better environment.

“All the main mayoral candidates agreed on the need for the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street at the last election, as did Westminster Council until today.

“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.”

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