Oxford Street proposals – Labour’s 12 key questions
Oxford Street is vital to Westminster’s and London’s economy. The retail sector faces huge challenges and it is imperative that the Council works with retailers, landowners and Transport for London to set a positive framework for the future. We want to see thriving businesses, busy shops, well-paid staff and satisfied shoppers from home and abroad.
As Councillors representing the West End and further afield, we understand the pressure that Oxford Street can be put on the surrounding communities in Soho, Fitzrovia, Mayfair and Marylebone. We welcome plans to extend environmental improvements north and south of Oxford Street and the Council’s broad ambition for the future of Oxford Street.
In our discussions with residents and businesses we have picked up concerns – “it’s alright as far as it goes – but the ‘devil is in the detail” is an oft repeated comment. We share that concern and await the Council’s response to the following 12 key questions:
- What arrangements will be made to ensure world-class project management?
The Oxford Street project will require world-class project management skills. There is no evidence that the Council has the project management skills needed to complete this project. Recent bad experiences with Council’s estate regeneration projects and the mis-management of City West Homes, has revealed an organisation with no proven capacity to deliver probably the biggest ever project undertaken by a Council in the UK.
The Council should be open about the project management skills and expertise needed to deliver this project. It should welcome scrutiny in this area to ensure the Council is held to account in its delivery plans.
- How will Oxford Street remain ‘Open for Business’ for the many years it will be a building site?
The Council’s plans aim to not only transform Oxford Street, but the entire West End north and south of Oxford Street. How will this be delivered, at the same time as keeping the busiest shopping street in Britain working, keeping the traffic flowing and out of nearby residential streets, reducing traffic accidents and keeping the local economy going?
How will Oxford Street’s vital Christmas trade and thousands of retail jobs be safeguarded while the wider Oxford Street area is turned into a building site for the next decade?
- Where will necessary finance come from?
The Council says it has committed £150 million of Capital Expenditure over the next 3 years. But is this sufficient, given the scale of ambition? And if not, how much will be contributed by landowners, retailers, Central Government and TfL?
Private landowners will certainly benefit from the huge investment of public money and we would expect early indications from them that they will be contributing to the costs of the work.
- How do we measure whether this huge investment by the public sector has been successful?
The plans should include details which measure the impact of £150m in terms of more visitors, happier visitors, longer dwell times, more economic activity, better paid jobs, better air quality etc?
For example, on air quality the current plans contain no dates for when only zero emissions vehicles would be allowed into the area. A firm date should be set.
- Are the ‘Oxford Circus Piazza’ plans workable?
The plan to create an Oxford Circus Piazza will take bus, taxi and other vehicular traffic around Margaret Street and Great Portland Street. This could have a number of impacts:
- increased bus and taxi and other traffic in these two streets and possibly others nearby as taxis and other vehicles take short cuts through residential side streets
- more congestion on the side streets as extra bus, taxi and other traffic joins existing traffic
- longer bus journeys on these routes which would inconvenience passengers
- How will pedestrian safety be improved?
The plans reveal that the expected pedestrian congestion will only be partially eliminated. The report shows it will still be a major issue in three high profile locations. Given that the driving force for change is the opening of the Elizabeth Line and the outflow of millions of extra visitors on to Oxford Street, is this not a serious flaw in the proposal?
How will the plans to reduce the number of traffic lanes along Oxford Street impact onpedestrian safety?
There should be an examination of what the effects of continual stop and starting of vehicles (as a result of the new single lane proposal) will mean in terms of the release of nitrogen dioxide.
The Marble Arch plan doesn’t address the 14 lanes of traffic you have to cross to get from Hyde Park to Marks & Spencer.
- Is the plan ‘joined up’ with plans for surrounding areas?
The plan isn’t joined up with the Mayfair Neighbourhood Plans for Park Lane or the proposed shopping route along the course of the old River Tyburn. We are unclear whetherthe plan joined up with the Grosvenor Estate’s plans for Grosvenor Square.
There is a significant problem with rubbish collection in neighbouring areas. Large bags of rubbish pile up on the streets. The Council should use new technologies and implement innovative solutions to deal with this problem.
- Please can you drop the term ‘Oxford Street District’?
The Council should re-think its use of the term ‘Oxford Street District’. This is an invented term – there is no such thing. There is the West End, within which there are different neighbourhoods and a long road running from east to west called Oxford Street. To suggest that the area can be understood as the ‘Oxford Street District’ is inaccurate and a misrepresentation. More importantly, the terminology risks leading to the development of plans which undermine the character of the neighbourhoods north and south of Oxford Street, each of which has a distinct and special identity and heritage. What is appropriate for Oxford Street will not be appropriate for Soho, Fitzrovia, Mayfair nor Marylebone.
The Oxford Street plans should ensure that:
- The challenges Fitzrovia faces are addressed. There are significant problems with busy roads in residential streets. The plans should incorporate as far as possible the FitzWest Neighbourhood Forum’s plans, in particular the plans for greening and part-pedestrianisation that have recently been developed using ward budget funding.
- The character of Soho is protected and further encroachment of Soho’s character, whereby it is treated as a satellite of Oxford Street, is resisted. Carnaby has become more and more like Oxford Street; the rest of Soho should remain quirky and unique.
- The Mayfair Neighbourhood Forum plan has sought to protect the use of public squares as spaces which aren’t be over-commercialised. The Council should embrace these proposals.
- Why has no one asked the shoppers?
While property owners, retailers and residents have been consulted, there’s been no engagement with the shoppers and tourists When are the shoppers going to be asked to complete the picture?
- Where is the Management Plan for Oxford Street?
It is never too early to discuss how Oxford Street will be managed but, so far, there has been no discussion at all. We need to know how rubbish will be collected, how deliveries will be organised, how policing will operate and much more. We also need to know how this will be paid for in the context of collapsing local authority budgets for exactly this sort of activity.
- How can Oxford Street attract new retailers?
If Oxford Street is to have a future it must attract new independent retailers as well as the national and international High Street chains. We would like to see a retail area along Oxford Street where small independent retailers can sell their wares alongside the chain stores, offering variety, innovation and choice. We believe this will give Oxford Street a distinctive advantage and additional selling point for shoppers.
- Please can consultation be made easier?
Residents and local stakeholders have told us that navigating the consultation document hasn’t been easy and feeding back ideas has not been simple.
Some have requested printed street-by-street proposals for each area as the online document has proved inaccessible for them, but these have not been provided. This is a concern, because those who have poor access to digital information have not been able to participate as much as they would have wanted to.
Consultation needs to improve moving forward to ensure the voices of all stakeholders are better heard
Westminster City Council Labour Group