Something has recently changed in the “transformation” saga


The latest leaflet from Westminster Council, signed off personally by the Leader and the Deputy Leader, contains some surprising announcements.

Westminster Council, we are told: “initially supported the Mayor’s proposal to consult on the proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street West…”. We think it went a little further than that. Only last November we were presented with a major leafleting campaign and a JOINT consultation document on “our proposals to transform Oxford Street”, signed on behalf of Westminster Council, the Mayor, and TfL.

So now, apparently, only the consultation was supported by Westminster, not the proposed closure to traffic, and that only because, although WCC have ownership of Oxford Street; “…the Mayor could invoke powers to take over the street should he wish to do so”.

This hardly sounds like the most solid foundation on which to embark on one of the biggest road projects ever undertaken by WCC; a joint consultation that was apparently only joint because the Mayor was holding a gun to Westminster’s municipal head, threatening to take over the Street if WCC did not toe the line. Well, it is unfortunate that we could not have been told this prior to the consultation — it could have put a rather different perspective on things.

What accounts for this change of heart? Maybe it’s something to do with the record breaking 20,000 people responding to the consultation, and maybe many of them did not respond in the desired way? But this is guesswork for no one is permitted to see the response figures. Whatever the reason, the new leaflet tells us that if the now, non-joint, pedestrianisation scheme is to be implemented, it will be, and note the capitals:
“ONLY on the basis that a number of safeguards are incorporated into the plan. These safeguards are what we call “Our Eight Pledges”…”

Well, at least Westminster have finally got the message that there is a great deal wrong with this scheme, joint or not. But the problem now is that most of the “Pledges” are not within Westminster’s power to enforce and, on past performance, the Council will be unable to honour the few that are.









So let’s look at them a little more closely:

OUR PLEDGES TO YOU – City of Westminster

1 We will ensure pollution levels will reduce across the district.

How we will deliver this for you:
As well as initiatives such as the ultra-low emission zone for central London only two bus routes using the greenest vehicles will run through the district, a reduction of almost 100 buses an hour running at peak times. We are monitoring air quality at 100 sites across the West End.

WE SAY: UNWORKABLE – Bus numbers can, and are being reduced without closing Oxford Street. How 18 buses per hour running through the adjacent roads and approximately 40 buses per hour running to redirected stands, 24 hours a day, plus many hundreds of additional taxis, lorries and vans per hour will reduce pollution levels is not explained. As for the ULEZ-WCC have precisely no say over how this is operated. Equally it has no control on TfL deciding later on it needs to push more buses through the area, once it finds that 2 extra routes are inadequate.

2 We will ensure traffic won’t rat run down narrow residential roads

How we will deliver this for you:
We will carefully design the scheme to avoid creating congestion elsewhere. TFL is in- vesting in advance traffic signal technology to allow them to better manage traffic de- pending on different conditions at any given time and we are working to improve road user information so people can make informed journey choices before they travel.

WE SAY: UNWORKABLE – WCC is unable to carefully design anything to avoid congestion, only TfL can do this; and even they really only have control over the buses. The only way TfL can control the rest of the traffic is to jam it up somewhere else using its “advanced traffic signal tech- nology,” i.e. impose large numbers of slow moving queues on the alternative roads and an inevitable increase in congestion and rat running along the rest.

3 We will ensure that pedestrianised areas and surrounding streets will be effectively managed at all times
How we will deliver this for you:  

Uniform officers will have the powers they need for effective enforcement to tackle unlicensed or antisocial activity both day and night security including antiterrorism measures will be well-designed and proportionate and keep people safer.

WE SAY: DOUBTFUL – Just look at the evidence we have of Westminster’s enforcement abilities to date; it is an abject list of failures: Leicester Square; Trafalgar Square North, free-for-alls for amplified buskers and all forms of illegal street activity; Pedicabs, 10 years of totally ineffectual tough talk and no action mean that these third world rickshaws continue to blight our streets; Shisha Smoking joints, unlicensed, noisy, smelly, disturbing residents late into the night; professional begging gangs — all ply their trades openly and unhindered. WCC’s effective management is ineffective, and anyway they have no money to manage anything that does not bring them in revenue, e.g., parking.

4 We will make sure the Oxford Street must remain accessible to all

How we will deliver this for you:
The new Elizabeth line will be step free and some new bus stops will be situated within one block of any traffic free section of Oxford Street and as close as possible to any pedestrianised area. We will also be looking at a new local mobility scheme along Oxford Street to further boost accessibility. Taxis will be able to drop off and collect passengers at the rear of some stores and on each of the side roads.

WE SAY: UNWORKABLE – The tube is not an option for many, for reasons of health, mobility, or cost. The Elizabeth Line may be step free, but the chances are the station at the other end of the route won’t be, so where does that leave accessibility? Bus stops as close as possible, in most cases, means 200-300 metres away. Moreover, most will need to change buses at least once even to get that close. The dismembering of the bus service will also badly affect many shop workers, and the army of night workers who rely on an effective night-time bus network, when the tube is closed. And once in Oxford Street, there will be no choice for all but to walk. The majority cannot afford taxis, and those that can will want to go somewhere less polluted and easier to get to.

5 We will ensure deliveries will be properly controlled and not cause greater local inconvenience
How we will deliver this for you: 

Recent surveys have shown that there are very few shops being serviced from the front via Oxford Street. Our plan is that the maximum distance to a loading bay will be no more than 50 metres. We will use all our enforcement powers to make sure delivery rules will not be flouted.

WE SAY: UNWORKABLE – Our recent surveys have in fact shown that approximately 45% of shops have no option but to be serviced from Oxford Street; even TfL put this figure at 35%. The 50 metre distance to a loading bay is ridiculous, that wouldn’t even get to the junction of the nearest side street from most shops, never mind the nearest bay. It will be a disaster for all but the major stores with rear and side loading bays, particularly if WCC make it even worse by then restricting loading on the side streets, the only place they will have left. Yet if they do not, residents’ lives will be made a misery with the noise of revving lorries and countless metal loading trollies being wheeled to and from the shops. Given WCC’s record on enforcement, this is anyway the most likely outcome. Closing Oxford Street will result in massive disruption either way.

6 We will make sure the night time traffic should not unduly increase disturbance
How we will deliver this for you:

Buses and taxes will be some of the quietest available so that noise levels throughout the area will largely stay unchanged or decrease for the most part with current plans. We will be monitoring noise across the district making all data available and develop mitigation measures including changing the scheme should that be required.

WE SAY: IMPOSSIBLE – Westminster has no grounds for making this assertion. TfL have not even done any traffic modelling to assess the consequences of closure at night and WCC have failed to address the question of why Oxford Street should be closed overnight at all, given the disproportionate amount of disruption which would be caused to residents and businesses. It will guarantee that the 500 vehicles an hour that presently use Oxford Street through the night will be forced to find their way through residential streets. The quietest available buses are by no means quiet enough, the taxis will be the same taxis; and they are not quiet, particularly at night, when there is a drop in ambient noise levels. If WCC really think that running all these extra buses, taxis, lorries and vans through our streets will not dramatically increase noise levels they should spend less time with the TfL modellers and get out a bit more. In addition, passengers will be waiting for buses in residential streets, instead of on Oxford Street itself, bringing with them noise and anti-social behaviour.

7 We will ensure that there will be adequate safe and quiet cycle routes through the area
How we will deliver this for you:

We are developing proposals for a high-quality East-West cycle route to the north of Oxford Street. This network would compliment new facilities coming to the area.

WE SAY: UNWORKABLE – Cyclists are to be banned from Oxford Street with the rest of the traffic, turning the adjacent streets into noisy, polluted, congested, servicing points for Oxford Street. WCC realises that even they cannot put cycle routes down them as well. Previous attempts to find an East-West cycle route have failed because the streets of Marylebone and Fitzrovia are unsuitable. So any cycle route that is eventually designated, will be nowhere near where the cyclists actually want to be; and given all the other constraints, it is extremely unlikely to be “high quality”.

8 We will ensure resident parking bays will be protected.

How we will deliver this for you:
Our plan is that there will be no impact on the amount of resident, disabled and motorcycle parking currently available.

WE SAY: POSSIBLE – Finally, at point 8 we reach something that Westminster Council actually has within its power to promise. But with the huge pressure on all other forms of kerbside use that closure will put on our side roads, even that will be a herculean task to honour. Further they need to go beyond simply protecting this parking, it would need to be properly enforced, and the likelihood of that is very low.


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