Oxford was today bracing itself for a transport revolution.

The central changes of the £20m Oxford Transport Strategy come into force at midnight in the most radical change to the city centre in a generation.

Motorists will be forced to find alternative routes through the city following a host of changes to traffic access.

High Street - the main east-to-west route through the city centre - will be closed to through traffic from 7.30am to 6.30pm and Cornmarket Street will be pedestrianised.

Many more roads will be turned over to buses, cyclists and pedestrians in a bid to cut pollution and make the city centre more pleasant. Traffic engineers, who have been working around the clock to prepare the city for tomorrow's changes, remain confident it will work.

But they are warning of inevitable teething troubles as drivers adapt to the new system - and are urging everyone to be patient.

Opponents of the scheme predict traffic chaos.

Keith Welham, chief engineer for Oxfordshire County Council, said: "People need to think very carefully about their journey before they leave the house tomorrow.

"They should consider cycling or using public transport but, if they must use the car, they should make themselves aware of changes." Council leaders deliberately chose a school holiday, when there is less rush hour traffic on the roads, to introduce the changes.

Contractors have been working throughout the Bank Holiday weekend to complete roadworks for the scheme. However, finishing-off work will continue for up to a month.

Staff will be on the streets all night, fine-tuning traffic signals and putting down road markings.

A technical response team, based at Speedwell House, in Speedwell Street, has been set up to answer queries from the public and deal with problems. The number to call is 01865 815700.

Traffic wardens and parking attendants have been briefed to report problem spots. Teams of police officers will be placed at key points around the city centre to ensure the changes are enforced.

Police have the power to issue fixed fines of up to £40 and three penalty points to motorists who defy the traffic orders.

Sgt William Boyle, of the Oxford Police City Centre Unit, said: "It is our job to enforce the new traffic regulations but we understand they are new and we will take a common-sense approach." Campaigners who have opposed the scheme throughout forecast gridlocked traffic and damage to trade.

Brian Lester, secretary of the Keep the High Street Open campaign, said: "They have spent £20m on traffic chaos. You cannot simply close roads that have been the main arteries of the city for 1,000 years."

Story date: Monday 31 May

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.