UNTIL 1999, shoppers in Cornmarket had to keep their eyes peeled for buses.

Then, as part of the Oxford Transport Strategy, buses were banned from Oxford’s main shopping street and daytime traffic, apart from buses, was told to keep out of High Street.

These key changes immediately improved life for pedestrians. But other major improvements were not put forward until almost 10 years later, when the then county council leader Keith Mitchell unveiled Transform Oxford.

This scheme proposed a radical redesign of city centre streets, including plans to remove traffic from Queen Street, George Street, Broad Street and Magdalen Street.

Although Queen Street was partially pedestrianised, with some buses re-routed elsewhere, funding cuts to the county council meant other aspects of the plan were not implemented. In 2011 the council admitted the scheme, due to be completed by 2014, was on hold.

Now, five years on from the launch of Transform Oxford, the city’s pedestrians’ association is lobbying the county council after setting out its own vision for the city centre.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said he is now in favour of removing all buses from Queen Street after developers signed an agreement for a £400m revamp of the Westgate Centre.

That, along with a push to pedestrianise more of St Ebbe’s and “merge” the footpath and roadway in Pembroke Street to slow vehicles down, are part of the council’s new master plan, revealed by the Oxford Mail yesterday.

Sushila Dhall, chairman of the pedestrians’ association, has briefed Mr Hudspeth on the organisation’s vision for Oxford. She has also invited him to a briefing on July 23 to discuss the possibility of creating a public square in St Giles.

She said: “Transform Oxford did have some effect, including the partial pedestrianisation of Queen Street. But a lot of the proposals were not carried out.

“George Street was supposed to be made more pedestrian-friendly, with buses taken out of Magdalen Street, but that got nowhere and would have freed up a beautiful area.

“Now is a very good time to grasp the nettle on pedestrianisation.

“Hythe Bridge Street is an area that could be massively improved – the pavements are exceptionally narrow so people get forced into the road.

“In Oxford we are far too wedded with the idea of having traffic going through the centre and are behind places like Reading and Teignmouth in Devon which sets aside large areas for pedestrians.

“Now that the Westgate Centre proposals have been agreed it’s a good opportunity to lobby for more improvements.

“I think it would be better to leave Queen Street as it is, rather than move buses to St Aldate’s.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said he was happy to have a dialogue about pedestrianisation.

But he added that with the council facing a 10 per cent cut in government funding to the council in 2015/2016, it could not be a priority.

The plan to create a public square in St Giles, for example, was unlikely to go ahead at the moment because of a lack of funding.

“With the redevelopment of the Westgate Centre, part of the proposal is to take the buses out of Queen Street. We need to make sure that doesn’t impact too much on another area,” he said.

“Creating public realm spaces would be a nice thing to do but at the moment we have to prioritise spending money on repairing the roads.

“On paper these schemes sound like a good idea but the reality could be expensive.”

Artist Ted Dewan, a children’s book illustrator from Beech Croft Road, North Oxford, has campaigned for a reduction of traffic speed in Oxford and has staged a number of community initiatives to show how his street could be a shared space between traffic and pedestrians.

Now he is backing the Oxford Pedestrians’ Association campaign to create a public space in St Giles.

He said: “At the moment St Giles is, at times, effectively a six-lane highway, and you could use some of that space in a more efficient way.

“It’s hard to see how St Giles could not be improved, and the traffic would not have to take too much of a hit.

“There’s definitely a case for making better use of the space in St Giles – the traffic would only need half the space it is given.”

Colin Cook, executive member for development at the city council, said a lot more investment would be needed to make any significant improvements to the city centre’s transport system.

He said: “It’s possible that Keith Mitchell, the former leader of the council was, to a degree, flying a kite with Transform Oxford.

“But I think Ian Hudspeth is much more sympathetic to cyclists and pedestrians than Mitchell ever was.”

He cited a £2m redesign of Bonn Square and the opening of the Oxford Castle, off New Road, as measures for pedestrians.

“I would be keen to see buses come out of Queen Street completely. An alternative route for buses to loop round then needs to be created but I think that would be possible.”

Mr Cook said St Giles could be used for more open-air events, such as markets and festivals, but such events would be only on a temporary basis.

“Remembrance Day and St Giles Fair are good examples of how the street can be used and you could have a flexible space and use it for big events, but it would not be something permanent.”

When asked how long it would take to achieve significant progress for pedestrians, Mr Cook said it was unlikely any major changes to Frideswide Square would happen until 2019.

“It’s a case of evolution rather than revolution,” he said.


Tackle air pollution and overcrowding in St Aldate’s

Leave Queen Street as it is now rather than move more buses to St Aldate’s

Narrow the roadway in St Giles to create a wide space for other activities, and a walkway between Martyrs’ Memorial and St Giles

Create a pedestrian-friendly direct route between Oxford railway station and the city centre

Take buses out of Magdalen Street East, freeing up the cycle lane and reducing air pollution

Remove the traffic lights from the Holywell Street junction and replace with a raised crossing in pedestrian-priority colouring

Create a phase at Carfax when all traffic is stopped so that pedestrians can cross in any direction

Remove traffic lights at top end of George Street and replace with a level pedestrian priority crossing – a four-way zebra crossing