Council claims local people 'no not support' pedestrianisation proposals while Mayor confirms expansion of ULEZ boundary to North and South Circular
The Mayor of London has slammed Westminster City Council's decision to shelve plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street as a "betrayal of millions of Londoners", arguing banning traffic from the busy shopping hub would boost both businesses and air quality.
A row erupted yesterday between Sadiq Khan and the local authority when council leader Nickie Aiken released a statement calling for "a rethink of the whole strategy" to pedestrianise Oxford Street, citing a lack of support from people who live and work in the area.
Pedestrianisation of the street - which is a well-known air pollution hotspot due to the hundreds of buses which pass along the road each day - has long been sought by Khan and green campaigners, and detailed plans to transform the area were unveiled late last year. The proposals would see buses and taxis banned and redirected from the street, as well as the installation in the area of at least 25 new pedestrian crossings that use energy efficient LED lighting.
But the proposals were thrown into disarray yesterday after Aiken, the Conservative leader of Westminster Council, said new proposals were needed that "future proof Oxford St and the surrounding district so it remains the pre-eminent shopping district in the UK".
"We will now look to develop fresh plans to achieve this, but we can confirm that the council does not support the full scale pedestrianisation of Oxford Street and believes a rethink of the whole strategy is now required," the statement read.
A spokesperson for the Council told BusinessGreen 61 per cent of residents who responded to a consultation earlier this year said they did not support the range of proposed changes to the Oxford Street area, which included pedestrianisation.
Aiken added that the Council needed to ensure "everyone can benefit from proposals, not just certain groups".
"I utterly reject any suggestion that there is any kind of betrayal," she said. "Quite the contrary, we are sticking up for the people who know best, those who live and work in the district. It was clear through two public consultations and recent council elections that local people do not support the pedestrianisation proposals."
But Khan hit back at the council last night, calling its decision to shelve the proposals "a real threat to the future of Oxford Street", which he said "could not be worse timed" with House of Fraser having just announced plans to close its flagship store.
However, he promised he would still not "walk away" from his wish to ban traffic from Oxford Street.
Westminster Council's decision to pull the plug on Oxford Street pedestrianisation will be seen as a betrayal of the millions of Londoners & visitors to our city who would have benefited from making Oxford Street a safer & healthier environment. pic.twitter.com/ggTwDXHmfU— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) June 7, 2018
But some blamed the Mayor for the debacle. Caroline Russell, London Assembly Member for the Green Party, criticised Khan's "devastating lack of leadership" in failing to build support for his proposals. "Nice plans are no good if he can't put them into action," she said. "The Mayor needs to work with Westminster Council to come up with another plan for Oxford Street fast and he also needs to show more leadership and vision in building consensus for the major changes needed to make our streets more people-friendly.
The row erupted just as the Mayor today confirmed that the Ultra Low Emission Zone due to come into force next year is to be expanded beyond Central London from 2021 to a boundary that encompasses the entire area of the city between the North and South Circular roads.
The move means strict emissions standards will apply to cars, buses, coaches, and lorries across the whole of London from 2021, which the Mayor's Office claims will result in 100,000 fewer Londoners living in areas that exceed legal air quality limits.
Around 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans, and 3,000 lorries could be affected by tighter emissions standards in the expanded zone, which will be 18 times larger than the Central London ULEZ which comes into force next year.
The announcement won the backing of businesses and green groups. Director of legal and public affairs at delivery firm Hermes, Hugo Martin, said the firm was "fully committed to meeting the standards in the expanded ULEZ and is investing in cleaner, electric vehicles to support this".
"We are pleased to be one of the leading lights in the logistics industry helping London on its path to a zero emissions future," he added.
The Mayor today also launched a major new study looking at the health impacts of air pollution on more than 3,000 primary school children.
Paul Morozzo, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said expansion of the ULEZ was a "cause for celebration".
"London has moved into the fast lane when it comes to tackling harmful air pollution, and now central government and the car industry must change up a gear and show they can match Sadiq Khan's ambition," he said. "Government funding and support for other UK cities to introduce similar schemes are desperately needed and car makers like VW need to ditch diesel and go electric. People everywhere have a right to breathe clean air."
Plans to ban cars and buses from London's most congested shopping street may now be on ice, but with the ULEZ kicking into force next year and growing in size from 2021, alongside investment in cleaner buses and EVs, the hope is Central London's air will soon be heading in a cleaner direction either way.
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