Westminster Council has announced that it will not go ahead with the planned piazzas at Oxford Circus and other changes to Oxford Street until it has carried out a public consultation “with residents and other stakeholders”.
However, Cllr Matthew Green, cabinet member for business, licensing and planning said Westminster Council “remain committed to supporting the future success of the nation’s favourite high street and its surrounding neighbourhoods”.
Westminster had previously announced a raft of plans published in a 38-page booklet presented by Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster Council, and Dan Labbard, chief executive of the Crown Estate.
But residents groups attacked the council’s plans as showing contempt for those who live in the neighbourhoods surrounding Oxford Street.
In August Westminster Amenity Societies Forum chair Richard Cutt wrote to council leader Rachael Robathan to say:
“It is our unanimous view that throughout the Covid crisis, the council has remained too close to landlords and business and not close enough to residents. Whilst there should always be dialogue with landlords and business, it should be more transparent, at arm’s length and not to the exclusion of listening to residents.”
Westminster’s part-pedestrianisation plans are “a scheme to drive Oxford Street’s traffic through the neighbouring areas in order to provide the Crown Estate with a new central London shopping centre,” he wrote.
Now with council elections due in May next year Westminster’s Tories have, unsurprisingly, had a change of heart.
“We’ll be focusing on engaging with residents and other stakeholders on potential permanent schemes for piazzas at Oxford Circus, along with associated enabling works,” announced Cllr Green.
“We will shortly share the engagement and consultation approach and timetable but in moving forward we are committed to meeting key tests of a clear business case, meaningful engagement, and complete clarity on impact on residents and costs,” he said.
The Labour group on Westminster council welcomed the announcement.
Labour group leader Councillor Adam Hug said: “Following the mess Westminster Council made of the Marble Arch Mound it is vital that the council gets its house in-order before ploughing ahead with other major projects in the £150m Oxford Street District Project. This screeching u-turn, while necessary, highlights the incompetence and arrogance with which the Conservative run council has operated for far too long.”
West End ward Labour candidate Paul Fisher said: “Westminster’s high-handed attitude has seen them fail to properly consult with residents about their West End plans or prepare for their impact. It is essential that before new permanent schemes in the West End are put in place that residents are fully consulted.”
See also the news report in Westminster Extra: Piazzas put on hold in circus U-turn.