COULD one of Oxford’s historic streets be transformed into the city’s version of ‘Las Ramblas’?

St Giles is currently a multi-lane road used by cars, buses, bikes and other traffic.

Over many years there have been calls for a new pedestrianised area to be built in the middle of the wide street.

Now Lib Dem city councillor for Summertown Mike Gotch has said he would like to see a large swathe up the centre of St Giles transformed into something similar to Las Ramblas, a famous street which runs through the heart of Barcelona.

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Other political groups within the city have agreed that pedestrianising the middle of the street would provide a boost for the struggling local tourism economy, as well as a more pleasant space for Oxford’s residents.

Similar schemes for St Giles have been mooted before, including in a recent long-term plan drafted by Oxfordshire County Council which maps out the future of travel in the county.

Oxford Mail:

A pedestrianised St Giles in an image from the Local Transport Plan survey. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council.

Mr Gotch said his proposals for St Giles were part of a much larger ‘attractive greening of Oxford’ which the local Lib Dems were committing to as part of their election manifesto for next year’s city council elections.

Also in this package are plans to ban cars from Broad Street, something which the current Labour-run city council is also calling for Oxfordshire County Council to do with a cash grant it may soon receive from the Government.

Mr Gotch said: “What we are trying to do is pedestrianise as much of Oxford as possible – we do that by keeping out as much private transport as possible. But that means you also need a much better public transport system, and other links too.”

Under plans drawn up by the Lib Dem councillor, a long paved section would run up the centre of St Giles, taking up most of the space currently used by traffic.

The current access roads which run along the east and west of the road would be used to redirect traffic and space for cars and buses to turn around would be added near the Martyrs Memorial to the south of the road, and near the war memorial to the north of the road.

In the pedestrianised zone there would be room for shops and stalls, benches, trees, and possibly a play park.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Gotch's sketch for how a pedestrianised St Giles could look. Picture: Mike Gotch

Mr Gotch added that creating a more pleasant area in the city centre may help to revitalise Oxfordshire’s tourist economy in the future, which is currently facing a downturn because of the pandemic.

In May, Experience Oxfordshire, a body which promotes tourism in the county, warned that lockdown was costing businesses £140m each month they had to stay shut.

READ AGAIN about the costs Oxfordshire's tourism businesses are facing here

Mr Gotch said: “This scheme is not only for visitors and tourists. It is for the people of Oxford too. What we are going to create here is a far more attractive green space for people to enjoy.”

St Giles plays host to two major civic events in Oxford each year: the St Giles Fair at the start of September and Remembrance Day events in November.

Sushila Dhall, a local Green Party member and chairman of the Oxford Pedestrians Association, said these events gave an idea of what a permanent pedestrianised version of the street could look like.

She added that both the Greens and OxPA had been calling for a similar scheme for year.

Oxford Mail:

St Giles fair last year. Picture: Ed Nix

Ms Dhall said: “OxPA did a survey and counted that there is a lot more pedestrians using St Giles than there are vehicles.

“The best view of the street is you want to see the beautiful buildings and the Martyrs Memorial is in the middle of it and you could do that without affecting the traffic in any way.

“St Giles could be one of the most beautiful town squares in the world if we did that.”

Ms Dhall said that emergency travel funding the government has allocated to Oxfordshire could be used to create a rudimentary form of pedestrianisation along the road, by isolating the centre with traffic cones.

She added: “If you are going to pick the easiest things to change first, that would be a place where it wouldn’t affect traffic numbers, but would give a lot more space to pedestrians.”

Oxford Mail:

Barcelona's Las Ramblas. Picture: Carl Court/ Getty Images

The city council’s deputy leader Tom Hayes, who is also responsible for overseeing its environmental and transport commitments was receptive to the idea.

Mr Hayes said: “Clearly a street predominantly used by pedestrians should have the greatest possible pedestrianisation. Clearly people who want to cycle and walk should be supported. So many people agree with the vision proposed for St Giles, it's been talked about for years, and the County Council's transport plans agree with the ambition.

“As ever, the challenges of finding funding and finding solutions to coach drop-off and pick-up block the way.

He added: “Now that the Government are urging, and funding to a limited extent, ambitious cycling and walking plans because of the pandemic, we might have a funding solution.

“I would encourage Councillor Gotch and his colleagues to raise the matter directly with the transport authority, the County Council.”

Oxford Mail:

A historic photo showing Linton Lodge Hotel strikers walking down the middle of St Giles

Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for maintaining roads in the city, is currently putting together the early stages of a long-term plan which will help make changes to the ways people get around in the county.

READ AGAIN about the council's plans for transport here

The Local Transport Plan, which maps out changes to roads, railways, and cycle and walking routes in the county includes a pedestrianised St Giles as an ‘aspiration’.

A design drawing in the plan shows an image of a paved over St Giles full of people walking and sitting on benches, while two narrow lanes of traffic drive either side.

St John’s College owns land to the south of St Giles and was contacted for comment on the proposals.