OXFORD'S transport supremo has slammed the brakes on plans to remove Walton Street's controversial traffic barrier.

The barrier went up last year at the street's junction with Beaumont Street and Worcester Street, on an 18-month experimental basis.

After agreeing three weeks ago to defer a decision on the controversial barrier's future for six months, the county council then prepared a report recommending the barrier's removal.

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But at a meeting today, Yvonne Constance, county council cabinet member for the environment, refused to follow the report's recommendations to remove it on August 17.

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Yvonne Constance

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Instead, the council will now focus on creating a Low Traffic Neighbourhood for Jericho and Walton Manor and the barrier will remain in place until it is designed, consulted on, funded and implemented.

Ms Constance's decision to keep the barrier in place came at the end of the meeting in which a number of Oxford councillors expressed support for retaining it.

She said: "In making this decision, there is a growing recognition that people want less traffic in the area.

"All the groups, both pro and anti-closure, have the common position of being ready to look at new designs and proposals for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood in the Walton Street area.

"A further decision on the closure will be made once a design for this has been made, funded and consulted on.”

Alex Hollingsworth, city councillor for Carfax, who has lived in Jericho for many years, told the meeting: "Residents at the southern end of Walton Street had to put up with queuing traffic on every day of the year before the closure.

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Alex Hollingsworth

"For those tenants the closure has been transformative - they can open their windows without being choked by fumes – the closure has taken away the rat run and it is vital that it is not brought back.

"Cyclists and pedestrians feel safe and that's exactly the conditions the Government is trying to encourage – let's not wind back the clock to when cyclists were squeezed by vehicles - recreating traffic jams will do nothing to support local businesses."

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City and county councillor for Jericho and Osney Susanna Pressel said it would be 'grossly irresponsible' to remove the barrier before other measures were put in place.

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She added: "At the moment to ensure social distancing people just walk in the road – if the barrier is removed it will be impossible to walk or cycle from a safe distance to others at many times of day."

Labour county councillor Emma Turnbull added that the closure of the street to traffic had reduced pollution and added it would be 'regrettable' if those benefits were removed so suddenly.

The report recommending the barrier's removal mentioned the council's intention to install a bus gate next month in the Worcester Street/Beaumont Street area, as part of Tranche 1 Covid 19 Active travel measures.

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Worcester Street area is where a new bus gate could be introduced

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It said this would have the effect of restricting through traffic through the Walton Manor/Jericho area but did not give the bus gate plan as a reason for the recommendation to remove the Walton Street barrier.

The report added: "The county council is considering detailed consultation into the development of a wider Low Traffic Neighbourhoods through application to the Tranche 2 Covid 19 Active Travel funding.

"These are for measures across the city but could include the Jericho and Walton Manor area."

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One reason cited for the recommendation to remove the barrier was the need to 'aid local businesses in recovery after a four-month (Covid-19) period of economic uncertainty'.

The Jericho Connections group, which has campaigned against the barrier and backs local traders, told the meeting its removal would be good news for businesses suffering the impact of Covid-19.

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Jericho traders

Spokeswoman Pip McAllister said afterwards: "Council leaders have not followed the report's recommendation and we are gutted – traders are going to be very upset."

She added that the group's contribution to ideas for the creation of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood would be informed by more details about the bus gate proposals.

She added: "I understand the LTN proposals for Jericho at the moment include pedestrianising part of it but that would create rat-running in the back streets."

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County councillor John Howson said the closure of Walton Street had increased traffic in St Bernard's Road and Leckford Road.

Jamie Hartzell, of the Jericho Low Traffic Neighbourhood group, said: "We are pleased the barrier is staying for now.

"We want to work constructively to redesign the whole neighbourhood to make life better for everyone."