THE owner of one of Oxford’s top hotels has urged council bosses to reconsider plans to place two new bus gates in the city centre.

The city and county councils are working on a strategy to reduce pollution, which involves a clampdown on cars in the city centre and a switch to more bus use, cycling and walking.

A camera-enforced bus gate has been operating in High Street in the middle of the day for over a decade but now there are plans for more of them to limit drivers’ journeys even further.

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Two ‘temporary’ new bus gates - or bus-only lanes - are planned for the city centre as part of post-lockdown changes to encourage people to take up walking, cycling or riding the bus instead of driving, and would be introduced by the count y council, which has already shut Walton Street to traffic at its junction with Worcester Street.

Jeremy Mogford, owner of the Old Bank Hotel featurng Quod restaurant, Gee’s and the Old Parsonage, said the proposals for two new bus gates have not been properly thought through.

The plan is for them to become operational by next month in Hythe Bridge Street or Worcester Street, between Frideswide Square and Beaumont Street; and on St Cross Road or South Parks Road, between Parks Road and Manor Road.

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The High Street bus gate

Mr Mogford, who is also chairman of the Oxford High Street Association and ROX (Backing Oxford Business), is concerned the measures will hit trade at a sensitive time as businesses try to recover from the coronavirus lockdown.

He said: “The councils really have to make up their minds about whether they want our city centre to have a thriving, interesting and diverse balance of different businesses or whether they would prefer a soulless Disney-style theme park of wonderful historic architecture and souvenir shops.”

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Mr Mogford added that the proposal for the severing of the last remaining city traffic ‘veins’ with unnecessary ‘bus gates’ was ‘complete madness’.

He added: “One of them is on South Parks Road in the Science area, which I have regularly used for many years to get around the city between my businesses and home.

“Perversely, South Parks Road does not actually have any buses, apart from the occasional city open top bus tour! At no time could you describe this road as congested apart from some backing up with student term time arrival and departures and a modest 5pm ‘rush hour’ caused by the traffic light system.”

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Mr Mogford is asking city and county councillors to list their business credentials, adding that if they had any significant business experience they would instinctively know that there has to be a sensible form of traffic flow within a city in order to connect supplies and certain customers.

He added: “Bus gates are an unintelligent and crude tool, a sledgehammer, which completely disregards the commercial wellbeing of Oxford.

“They will absolutely not aid a Covid recovery, they will do the opposite.”

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Mr Mogford said he welcomed city councillor Michael Gotch’s ideas for transforming St Giles and making it more user-friendly for pedestrians, provided city centre businesses were not adversely affected.

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He added: “I would definitely say yes to achieving something inspirational and elegant with St Giles, potentially one of the world’s great boulevards, but, only if the health of city centre businesses is maintained by keeping internally connecting traffic. This can easily be accommodated, albeit more discreetly, with a single narrow access road either side with a maximum 10mph speed limit. The challenge of a design should be thrown open via a competition between the very best urban planners and architects in the world.

“I appeal, on behalf of OHSA, ROX and business, to Oxford City Council and the County Council to think again about the collateral damage which will be caused by shutting down essential access roads within the city.”

A third new bus gate is also being considered on Thames Street or Oxpens Road but it is not definite that this will go ahead.

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Ian Green, chairman of Oxford Civic Society, said: “Although OCS is in regular contact with the Councils to discuss transport initiatives, we were as surprised as anyone by the sudden announcement that bus gates are to be installed in either Hythe Bridge Street or Worcester Street and in either St Cross Road or South Parks Road next month.

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“The idea of additional bus gates is not new and constitutes a significant plank in the Connecting Oxford strategy, which we support as a serious attempt to reduce congestion and improve air quality in the city.

“But such a major change is bound to be controversial, and we are concerned about the short notice at which it is being introduced.

“It is essential that the people of Oxford understand exactly what is happening and what the benefits are expected to be.

"To that end, we have written to the councillors concerned at both county and city councils, urging them not only to set out in clear detail how the restrictions will work, but also to share the research findings on which the proposal is based, and their plans for evaluating the experiment as it proceeds.”

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The bus gate in High Street uses camera enforcement to restrict normal traffic from using the street between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

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When the county council was asked if it still intended to go ahead with the new bus gates by August a spokesman said: “We have received feedback from the public on the proposed bus gates which is being carefully considered.

"We will issue a further statement about the bus gates shortly.”

In a letter Mr Mogford has sent to city council leaders, he wrote: "The strategic positioning of all these ‘bus gates’, albeit under the caveat of being experimental and temporary, will dramatically and adversely affect the economic well being and viability of the centre of Oxford and all those who exist and trade in it."