THE county’s new transport boss says she could rethink plans to pedestrianise Queen Street in Oxford, as the opening of the revamped Westgate Centre draws closer.
Yvonne Constance, who was this week appointed to Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet, has revealed she is keeping an ‘open mind’ about the scheme.
The decision on whether to push ahead with pedestrianisation will be one of the first major issues to cross her desk as she takes over the transport brief.
Council officers say it should be in place for the Westgate’s reopening in October, due to safety fears about buses mixing with high numbers of expected shoppers.
But the proposal has met vocal opposition from bus company bosses, who warned the street’s closure to traffic would leave buses with nowhere to turn.
An alternative proposal to use Frideswide Square as a turning circle prompted fears of traffic chaos due to the slow manoeuvres that some 30 buses an hour would have to perform.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail, Mrs Constance said she was due to meet council officers to discuss the issue and had not ruled anything out – including delaying pedestrianisation of Queen Street.
She said: “I will be asking for an early briefing on this, but I will be approaching the matter with an open mind.”
The cabinet member also said a decision last year to route buses through a busy shopping area in Didcot appeared to be at odds with proposals for Queen Street.
Police raised concerns about pedestrian safety near the Orchard Centre, in Didcot, but their concerns were dismissed by council officers, who said experience in Queen Street showed ‘these [arrangements] operate with good levels of safety and bus drivers exercise high levels of care when travelling through such areas’.
This was the argument bus companies made last December when they unsuccessfully lobbied the county council’s cabinet to delay the pedestrianisation of Queen Street in Oxford.
Mrs Constance added: “In Didcot it caused quite an upset and Queen Street was the reference point. The current proposal for Queen Street seems contrary to that. I will be paying very close attention.”
Her comments came after the development manager of the Westgate Centre said the pedestrianisation scheme was ‘vital’ to the shopping centre’s future success.
But bus companies remain ‘deeply concerned’ about the issue and have not yet decided whether they plan to object – a move that could trigger an inquiry.
County council spokesman Martin Crabtree said the authority was pressing ahead with plans to pedestrianise Queen Street on a trial basis, with a consultation due at the end of this month. He added: “Turning arrangements proposed do not involve buses making U-turns at the large roundabout in Frideswide Square.”