Tory U-turn on Oxford Street ahead of poll
Conservatives order officials to stop work on pedestrianisation project
04 May, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Daniel Astaire, Westminster City Council’s cabinet member responsible for Oxford Street
VOTES were still being cast as the Extra went to print last night (Thursday) but for the single-issue party fighting the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street a major battle had already been won.
The Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street was formed in protest at Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s proposals for the historic shopping street and was fielding candidates in three key wards.
The move sent the Conservative-run council into a massive panic, with one long-standing councillor ditching her own party in protest and backing the CAPOS.
The political pressure led this week to a u-turn by Westminster Conservatives who ordered officials to stop working on the project and withdrew their support for the scheme.
The Tory-run council had publicly promoted the Mayor’s flagship and in November stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Sadiq Khan at the unveiling of the £60million designs, describing it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and boldly insisting it would be completed by the end of this year.
Sceptics have suggested that the change of heart was nothing but a cynical pre-election ploy designed to wipe out support for CAPOS.
How a pedestrianised Oxford Street could look
CAPOS told the Extra: “In the last few weeks both major parties have been practically falling over each other in their enthusiasm to oppose the Mayor’s plans to pedestrianise.
“Finally, last week, an authoritative statement was released from a full session of Westminster City Council by Daniel Astaire, cabinet member responsible for Oxford Street. This announced that the project was put on hold; that there were many problems with it; and that there were many other ways of addressing the issues on Oxford Street other than by pedestrianisation.
“Later, Cllr Astaire also added that if the Mayor wanted to go ahead it would take him up to four years to be able to take the road off WCC, if he ever could.”
It added: “The council position has completely shifted from pedestrianisation with the dubious protection of eight pledges, to No Pedestrianisation in the space of under four weeks. The main reason for the change may well have been to remove the reason for the existence of an anti-pedestrianisation party, and thus its voting base. At the time of writing it remains to be seen if this policy was successful, but the promises now received from the council are sufficient reason to have stood candidates in these elections no matter what the outcome.
“The task now will be to ensure that these promises made during the election are honoured. But if pedestrianisation comes back on the cards then at the next election CAPOS will be fielding many more candidates than just the three this time.”
Cllr Astaire announced he would not be standing with just weeks to go before the election after 12 years on the council. He said: “Transport for London 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 a proposal which is acceptable to the council.”
In a statement Sadiq Khan 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.”