OXFORD city centre will be pedestrianised within 12 months now the city's transport strategy has been given the green light.

The often-controversial Oxford Transport Strategy has been in the pipeline for seven years and was the subject of a 17-day, £200,000 public inquiry in February.

Government inspector Geoff Brown released his 125-page judgement yesterday - six weeks later than originally intended - and backed the proposals to ban all traffic from Cornmarket and the west end of Broad Street, close High Street to private through traffic for 11 hours a day, and create a bus priority route round the centre.

He also endorsed council plans for the railway station junction, including the proposal to dismantle the old London, Midland and Scottish railway building - presently occupied by direct action protesters who are threatening to tunnel underneath it.

"It all very much depends on our Green-supporting, hippy friends in the railway station now, everything else is swimming along," said Alex Hollingsworth.

Mr Hollingsworth, chairman of Oxford City Council's highways and traffic committee, said: was delighted with the inquiry result.

"It is always a slightly daunting prospect when you put your plans that you've spent years working on before an independent inspector - and it's a delight to have them so comprehensively approved." "Officers have done an enormous amount of work and obviously this result is a vindication of all the preparation done over months and years. I'm very pleased for them and for the city."

Oxfordshire County Council's chief transport planner Roger Williams said: "I've worked on these proposals pretty well full time for seven years and its tremendous to have this unequivocal independent endorsement.

"It will protect Oxford as a world heritage site as well as making it a good place to live, work and shop."

The traffic proposals now have to be approved by the city and county councils and then major work needs to done in Thames Street and at the station junction by Park End Street before the bus priority route can be created and the centre made car-free.

If everything goes to plan, Cornmarket could be traffic-free by February or perhaps earlier.

At the moment the biggest obstacle is the eco-warriors in the LMS building, who are planning to stay for at least a couple of months. While they are there, the building cannot be moved to the railway centre at Quainton, the road cannot be widened, and OTS cannot proceed. They are supported by the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, and FoE transport spokesman Richard Mann said the protesters had been left with no option other than direct action.

"If it comes to an eviction we will be there," he said.

Environmentalists felt OTS proposals did not do enough to improve conditions for walkers and cyclists in Oxford and they strongly oppose road-widening at the railway junction to make space for a two-way bus lane.

Others who spoke against some of the proposals at the inquiry were Oxford University, some traders, and drivers' representatives.

A University spokeswoman also said they had serious concerns about the effect of OTS on South Parks Road and Longwall Street in terms of safety and air pollution.

She told the Oxford Mail: "We have had assurances from the county council that the position will be reviewed in the light of experience and look to the council to honour that."

The inspector's report was also greeted with dismay by the Association of British Drivers. Campaign manager Mark McArthur-Christie, of Farmers Close, Witney, said OTS hurt car drivers but did little to improve the lot of cyclists and walkers.

He added: "It's another step towards fortress Oxford, a city which keeps itself to itself. The damage to retail trade is going to be quite serious." But that suggestion was disputed by Bill McCardle, director of Oxford's chamber of commerce, who said: the experience of other cities like York and Gloucester was that pedestrianisation attracted shoppers and was good news for trade.

"The world is changing and it's nice to see that Oxford is going to change with it. It is the best thing to happen in Oxford - and in Oxfordshire - for at least the 15 years I've been here."

The changes to the councils' proposals suggested by the inspector are:

He would like to see Queen Street, which will remain accessible by buses, pedestrianised in future.

High Street should be closed to through cars between 7.30am and 6.30pm instead of between 7am and 7pm.

The disabled parking spaces in New Inn Hall Street, St Michael's Street and Broad Street should be full-time disabled use and the Broad Street and St Michael's Street spots should not be time-limited.

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