BUSINESSES in Oxford are overwhelmingly in support of outdoor restaurant seating, better cycling lanes and even one-way pavements to help ease the lockdown, a survey has shown.

A survey of 191 employers conducted by Oxford City Council last week found high levels of support for plans to encourage the use of bikes as a way to avoid the closed spaces on public transport as lockdown lifts.

The businesses surveyed included large and small companies, university colleges, and NHS institutions in Oxford.

There was a high level of support for more secure cycle parking, with 92 per cent surveyed in favour.

Road closures and safety measures outside schools were favoured by 83 per cent, new zones for outdoor tables and chairs to promote ‘café culture’ by 81 per cent.

An Oxford city councillor said the survey had showed there was a ‘clear signal’ of support in the city for the plans.

The responses to the survey will be used to inform decisions by Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for roads in the city, over the coming days on the best ways to enable pedestrians and cyclists to practice social distancing while travelling.

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The City Council has committed £234,000 to kick start work on the measures, and an announcement of government funding is expected soon.

The high levels of support for the measures, which are due to be put in place from this month onwards, comes after Oxford University pro-vice-chancellor David Prout called for cycle path improvements at park and rides around the city.

This was so 5,000 members of university staff due to return to work over the summer can ‘park and pedal’ into the city centre.

Seventy-eight per cent of respondents to the city council’s survey were in favour of more bike parking at park and rides.

Dr Prout also called for segregated cycle ways to be built on main roads into the city from Kidlington, Abingdon and other settlements outside Oxford.

In the city council’s survey, 81 per cent of people were in favour of these protected bike paths on Banbury Road, Woodstock Road, Cowley Road and Iffley Road.

Eighty per cent were also in favour of changing the positions of some bus stops to give more space on pavements for people to walk, and 78 per cent were in favour of widening pavements by using temporary barriers or road markings.

Oxford Mail:

Cornmarket Street at the start of lockdown. Picture: Ed Nix

There was also widespread support among businesses for one-way pavements to support social distancing, with 76 per cent of respondents in favour of this.

Some of the most divisive measures the city council asked about included reducing speed limits to 20 mph on main roads, with 65 per cent in favour.

There was also division about setting new time windows for collections and deliveries within the city centre (49 per cent in favour, 40 per cent against, 11 per cent neutral); and restriction car parking in the centre of Oxford to free up room for pedestrians and cyclists (46 per cent in favour, 44 per cent against and 10 per cent neutral).

On the time windows for collections and deliveries question, one responder said: “On paper it appears to be a good idea and would reduce the amount and impact of traffic considerably.”

Another said: “That would have a detrimental effect on our business, but I can see the reasoning behind it.”

On the suspension of car parking question, one responder said: “I personally think there shouldn’t be any parking in the city centre,” while another said: “Taking away the facility for residents to park is not feasible, however parking for visitors is a matter to be considered.”

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Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council deputy leader and cabinet member for green transport and zero carbon Oxford, said: “When shops reopen on 15 June, the city centre will become busier. Social distancing protects public health, so we have to move quickly to ensure people minimise contact with others.”

He added: “Local businesses have sent a very clear signal. We're seeing very high levels of support for more secure cycle, road closures and safety measures outside schools, new separate and safe cycle ways, and new zones for outdoor tables and chairs. Our clear aim is to make changes in the areas where we exercise control and to continue influencing our partners to use their powers in the interest of public safety.”

At the end of last week, the government announced how much it would allocate to different local authorities across the UK from a pot of funding set aside for pavement and bike lane changes.

This followed on from government guidance which said people should avoid public transport as much as they possibly could when returning to work as the lockdown eases.

Oxfordshire is set to get a total of £2,984,000 from the government, but must first make a good case to the department for transport.

Alongside the survey, the city council has been holding talks with businesses in Oxford.

A ‘Talk of the Town’ meeting with city centre traders, and a workshop with disabled people, took place last week.