Leading councillors behind traffic restrictions which will see most motorists banned from driving through Oxford city centre have been criticised for 'snubbing' a meeting held to discuss the issue.

More than 150 people joined the Free our Streets event at the city's Wesley Memorial Church on Thursday.

The meeting was set up by the group Reconnecting Oxford, which is opposed to Oxfordshire County Council's anti-traffic measures, which include the Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) schemes – which have seen roads blocked to through-traffic in East Oxford and Cowley – and traffic filter plans which will see enforcement cameras installed on six roads to prevent drivers crossing the city centre at key times.

The gathering was held in partnership with #Together, a group set up during the pandemic to oppose lockdowns and vaccine passports. 

READ MORE: Oxford Traffic filters: Major details hidden from public

County Council leader Liz Leffman, cabinet member for highway management Andrew Gant, and cabinet member for travel Duncan Enright were all invited but failed to attend.

Oxford householder Jamie Hartzell, defended LTNs and traffic filters but criticised councillors for not bothering to turn up to defend their own traffic policies.

He said: "It is a great shame the council has decided to not put forward representation for tonight’s debate.”

Other speakers included East Oxford bar owner Clinton Pugh (father of Hollywood actress Florence Pugh), John Skinner from Reconnecting Oxford and Oxfordshire County Council’s Conservative shadow cabinet member for highways Liam Walker. 

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Mr Walker said: “I think it’s disappointing that the senior councils in charge of making these decisions didn’t even bother to show up and defend the damaging policies they’re implementing in Oxford and instead decided to snub the meeting.

"We councillors are elected to represent the views of our residents and we are accountable to them.

By them not showing up says it all really and it reflects badly on all councillors despite some of us taking the time to show up and debate.

"Democracy matters, voting matters, and the opinions of our residents matter. Some of the councillors from the coalition would do well to remember this.”

LTNs are part of a government-funded active travel initiative which has seen residential streets blocked at one end to improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions and boost healthier travel choices.

READ MORE: Oxford LTNs criticised by Florence Pugh dad and bar owner

Mr Hartzell repeatedly tried to convince the audience that they could find “common ground” and he discussed the impact of motorists on climate change and the floods in Pakistan.

He said his granddaughter was concerned about climate change and his family had taken the initiative to give up their car.

Mr Pugh, who owns the Kazbar, Cafe Coco and Tarifa bars in Cowley Road, said: “LTNs are having a detrimental effect on small businesses and most of these are likely to go bust.

“I’m campaigning for small businesses as many of the owners on Cowley Road don’t have English as their first language.

"I don’t blame them for not speaking out because I wouldn’t if I were in their position.”

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Mr Pugh called on members of the county council to resign, adding:  “I have always stood up to bullies”. 

Oxford hotelier and restaurateur Jeremy Mogford, the owner of Old Bank Hotel in High Street and Old Parsonage Hotel in Banbury Road, complained Oxford used to be a “vibrant city” but had been ruined by “incentivised traffic wardens hiding in the doorways”.

Oxford Mail: Jeremy Mogford speaking at the eventJeremy Mogford speaking at the event (Image: Ed Halford)

He added: “Brand Oxford is being damaged."

He said a crowdfunding campaign which aims to raise £80,000 for a judicial review into the bus gates filters decision had already raised £53,000.

Mr Skinner of the group Reconnecting Oxford, said a national movement was required to fight the traffic measures.

Mr Walker said Oxfordshire County Council’s handling of traffic measures in the city meant he now felt “embarrassed” to call himself part of the council.

He said: “I’ve been a county councillor since 2017 and I’ve never known the council to be as unpopular as it is now. We have a council in place which is hell-bent on hammering motorists.”

Mr Walker said it was notable Mr Gant had not turned up to the debate and he said the council’s focus should instead be on “funding services” as opposed to “pet projects”. 

Mr Walker was critical of the council’s decision to spend £8 million on 20 mph road signs and demanded automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras in the city should be removed.

The Conservative councillor apologised for the Government’s “mistake” in providing funding for LTNs and ANPR cameras.

In a statement issued on Friday, council leader Ms Leffman, said: “The meeting invite was from Together Alliance, an organisation which is not based in Oxford or Oxfordshire.

"This organisation was also involved in the protest that took place in Oxford on February 18.

“It does not represent the views of local residents and appears to be intent on spreading misinformation about our plans to improve air quality, reduce congestion and make it easier and more pleasant to get around the city.

“Councillors were asked to join a panel to discuss 15 minute cities, which are not part of the county council’s plans. This is part of the significant misinformation circulating around this and traffic filters.”