By Tom Hayes, deputy leader of Oxford City Council.

We disagree as often as we agree.

The two temporary bus gates are being proposed by two councils and two distinct political parties – a Labour-led city council and a Conservative-led county council. So, when we agree, when we can bridge our political differences, you know that the issue really matters.

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Even when the two councils agree, the relationship is not easy. The city council would have done things differently in developing the proposals, but that’s politics. Compromise in the public interest is necessary. We welcome the active involvement, strong endorsement, and political leadership on implementation of the bus gates by the county council’s Leader and key Conservative cabinet members. In a time of crisis, parties should work together where possible and, right now, we are in a crisis.

We face profound economic challenges. We know that people are worried about losing their business or their job. Four months on from the closure of the local economy to halt the spread of the disease, it is carefully reopening. The city council is helping businesses to stay local, supporting local people to keep their jobs, and seeking to protect incomes. Locally, we share a strong sense of purpose to get the economy moving.

That is why we are proposing two temporary bus gates for Oxford city centre. There are additional benefits that we are seeking to achieve — cleaner air and climate action — but we believe that what’s good for the economy is good for the environment. We stand together, side by side, on the need to back the bus gates and, above all, we are being led by what the evidence shows us.

Oxford Mail:

Worcester Street, one of the roads where a bus gate could be created. Picture: Ed Nix

The proposed bus gates seek to reduce the number of vehicles cutting through the city centre to get to another destination, rather than travelling to the city centre to shop. Much the same rationale was applied in 1999 with the introduction of the High Street bus gate. These drivers do not stop, they do not spend, and they don’t protect businesses, jobs, and incomes. What these vehicles do instead is clog up narrow city centre streets in our medieval city centre, taking space away from businesses and slowing down buses.

That is particularly unfortunate because data from before the pandemic shows that those who do stop and do spend (around 70% of commuters, visitors and shoppers to Oxford) actually arrive by bus – either directly or via park and ride. Only around 10% arrive by car. For the few who choose to drive, they will still be able to do so, with all the car parks still being accessible. But Oxford has limited city centre car parking and before the pandemic, car parking was already at capacity, particularly at weekends.

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The Government’s guidance on safe travel changed on July 17 to promote a return to bus travel. By encouraging the public to travel into the city by bus as they did before, we intend to increase the amount of direct traffic to businesses and help restore them to profitability.

As bus use by the public increases, the bus gates will mean quicker journeys and greater confidence in the bus services.

Since 2011, a round trip from Blackbird Leys during peaks on the 1 or the 5 has risen from 80 minutes to 99 minutes. We know that every 10% fall in bus speeds results in an 8% increase in operating costs for the bus companies. When costs go up, this can result in increases to customer fares which gets us into a destructive circle of further reducing bus use.

By encouraging more visitors to arrive by buses, we can save visitors from being limited by car parking options and travelling to alternative shopping destinations. It is this reason why our councils are working together to provide free park & ride car parking every day of August.

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The proposed bus gates will open up opportunities to increase footfall in the city centre, such as improving conditions to encourage more journeys from cyclists, and creating an improved pedestrian environment across the city centre including a limited number of pedestrianised streets and outdoor café-culture streets. Through this we hope to encourage more people to shop and eat inside the city while also being able to observe social distancing.

Oxfordshire County Council may be using emergency powers under the explicit instruction of the Government, using emergency legislation of 23 May - already successfully applied in similar schemes in Witney, Warwick, and many parts of London. However, we are also running a survey on the proposals which is hosted on the county council’s website. Indeed, we are writing to encourage you to submit your views to the survey before it closes on Sunday.

We are considering granting limited access through one bus gate for residents within the central area of the city. Blue Badge holders and disabled tax class vehicles will be exempt from the new temporary bus gates, along with all buses, taxis, and private hire vehicles. The creation of these exemptions is a practical effort to support the people who would be most affected by the bus gates. Ours is not a purist approach, we’re listening and responding.