The Marylebone Association has long-standing concerns over air quality in our area. Media attention has focused on Marylebone Road and Oxford Street but, in truth, the whole of Marylebone suffers from dangerous and unacceptable levels of air pollution.We therefore welcome Mayor Sadiq Khan's approach of extending the proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circular Roads and to bring forward its implementation to 2019 from 2020. These moves together with other initiatives to reduce the number of buses; consolidate freight deliveries and waste collections; introduce more zero-emission vehicles and deter through traffic from coming into the West End at all, would bring a major improvement in air quality in a relatively short time.
By contrast, an approach which begins with the aim of fully pedestrianising Oxford Street would have the opposite effect on Marylebone. The only available alternative route for buses is Wigmore Street and we saw the congestion and frequent gridlock caused when buses and taxis were diverted that way when Oxford Street was closed for months, in one direction only, by work associated with Crossrail. Wigmore Street already struggles to cope with the traffic which is currently banned from Oxford Street during the daytime and the knock-on effect is that this traffic then seeks other routes through the narrow residential street of Marylebone. Thus we would see widespread slow-moving, or stationary, traffic adding considerably to the already high levels of pollution in the area.
It is vital to stress that hardly anybody lives on Oxford Street, whilst Wigmore Street alone has some 300 residents and there are over 20,000 living in this part of Marylebone, many of whom are elderly. The area north of Oxford Street includes schools, many of them primary, as well as acute hospitals with numerous other clinics and medical practices surrounding the Harley Street/Wimpole Street core. The area also contains many small businesses and large company offices. Schoolchildren, medical patients, workers and residents spend all day in unhealthy air. Visitors to Oxford Street are there for a comparatively short time and want to be transported to and from the shops themselves, not nearby, by bus or taxi.
Westminster City Council, which is responsible for Oxford Street, well understands the harm which would be caused to the community by pedestrianisation (see letter to the Association below). The retail businesses do not want it and stopped the previous run of traffic-free days, nor do the landowners or the residents. Our neighbouring Amenity Societies in Fitzrovia, Mayfair and Soho are compiling their own evidence to show the potential impact on their areas and we hope that a concerted campaign will bring about a reasoned approach.
Superficially, pedestrianisation sounds like a benefit to Londoners but a year's work by the West End Partnership proved that it can only be done at the expense of damage to the health of those who live and work in the West End. We had begun a dialogue with the Greater London Authority Transport Committee on this issue and were looking forward to constructive measures on how Oxford Street could be improved, beginning with Transport for London's proposals to reduce bus numbers significantly further over the next few months. The sudden and seemingly unilateral announcement by the Deputy Mayor that the street will be "pedestrianised from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch by 2020" was far from helpful.
Paul Neville - Traffic and City Management
Westminster City Council's view
From: Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL
Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council
and Cabinet Member for the Built Environment
14th July 2016
Re: Reports on Oxford Street 'pedestrianisation'
Thank you for your note expressing concern at reports carried by several media outlets overnight and this morning, regarding an apparent announcement by Deputy Mayor of London for Transport Val Shawcross CBE that the GLA would seek to pedestrianise Oxford Street by 2020.
I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you that I and all of my colleagues at the City Council completely understand and appreciate local residents' concerns over the potential impacts of any wholesale pedestrianisation of the thoroughfare. The effect any such move would have on traffic movements across the surrounding streets is an issue that has been at the very forefront of our minds, as the various options for improving Oxford Street's public realm have been discussed.
News stories following the remarks made to the London Assembly's Transport Committee yesterday by Ms Shawcross appear to suggest that full pedestrianisation is the single preference for any scheme to improve Oxford Street. This is not a view that is shared by the City Council. Whilst, as mentioned by Ms Shawcross, it is true that we remain in discussions with the GLA, pedestrianisation is only one of a number of options that are being considered. Moreover, any option that is identified by all partners as being the most practical way forward would of course have to be presented to our residents and businesses as part of a comprehensive public consultation.
The protection and enhancement of Oxford Street is at the heart of the City Council's commitment to safeguarding the West End's position as one of the most celebrated and exciting places in the world. As you will be aware, the West End Partnership, which is chaired by the Leader of the Council, has been shaping a clear vision to make Oxford Street the world's best outdoor shopping experience, with cleaner air, first class public realm and an unrivalled mix of flagship and branded stores. That effort has centred on the work to identify those numerous options which I mentioned above, collaborating with all of our partners to set out how we can reduce traffic and create modern retail spaces.
I must reiterate that pedestrianisation is only one option that is being considered. Significant work is now underway with our partners, including Transport for London and the GLA, which will report back in the autumn. The key to delivering any improvements for Oxford Street is a substantial reduction of buses that move through the area and we need to ensure that traffic is not displaced, creating congestion and air pollution elsewhere in the local area. For the City Council, nothing has changed in this regard and we will continue to engage with the GLA and other stakeholders as we move towards that reporting stage, covering all available options, in the autumn.
Both Cllr Acton and I also attended the London Assembly Transport Committee on 15th June to discuss the progress being made in working through these options. We were both able to put forward a clear case covering the main obstacles to any scheme proposing full pedestrianisation, including bus movements and the issues posed to the local network by curtailing north to south traffic flow across Oxford Street.
We were therefore surprised to hear Ms Shawcross' comments yesterday. Based on many years' experience of managing the road network in the area, along with a wealth of research and modelling of traffic movements there, the City Council's view is that full pedestrianisation is, at present, simply not practicable and would produce too many adverse impacts on surrounding residents and businesses. The fact also remains that Oxford Street is the City Council's responsibility and so no changes can be implemented there without our agreement. This point will be reinforced to the GLA as we continue to work through options for Oxford Street that, as I described, substantially reduce the number of buses in the area and do not simply transfer traffic elsewhere.
I do hope that the above goes some way to reassuring you both of the City Council's position on this issue.
Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL
Comment from the City Council Labour Group
Westminster Labour Councillors have called for a meeting with Mayor Sadiq Khan and Valerie Shawcross, Deputy Mayor for Transport to raise concerns expressed by residents of Fitzrovia, Soho, north Mayfair and Marylebone about the local impact of plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street by 2020.
Labour say that there are over 10,000 residents living in the busy and bustling streets north and south of Oxford Street. The population is primarily ordinary working people, many of whom have lived in the area for years, whose children attend the local schools and who work in local businesses. Many people live in social housing, or housing for the elderly and they cannot choose to move out of the area if it becomes even more congested and polluted by increased bus and taxi traffic.
Councillor Jason Williams, Labour's Shadow Cabinet Member for City Management and Sustainability said:
"While we believe there could be benefits from plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street, it is vital this is done in conjunction with a review of bus routes so as not to move traffic and pollution onto residential streets north and south of Oxford Street."
"Real consultation with local residents needs to be an integral part of any plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street"
In addition to the questionnaire on Air Quality, which we mentioned in our last message, there is also a Community Dialogue on pedestrianisation running on the Mayor's website where you can leave your comments.
Go to http://talklondon.london.gov.uk/homes-spaces/environment/discussions/pedestrianisation
So far the comments are dominated by people who have no knowledge or experience of the previous traffic-free days or the Crossrail works!
Low Emission Neighbourhood - Late News
The Mayor announced this afternoon (19 July) that Marylebone's bid for Low Emission Neighbourhood funding has been successful. More on this initiative in our August newsletter.