Oxford street fights back: recovery plan launched, work to start within weeks
Westminster City Council has announced an “ambitious” plan to “reinvent the nation’s high street and boost London’s recovery” with a new vision for Oxford Street.
The plan that starts with the council’s £150 million investment will include temporary attractions and longer-term change, a focus on sustainability and some quick wins that will see work starting within weeks.
It includes “a unique Marble Arch visitor attraction and ambitious new framework to kickstart a reimagined Oxford Street as the great fightback is launched for the street”.
The new Oxford Street District (OSD) framework, developed with key strategic partners, aims to deliver “a successful long-term future for the nation’s high street, as the greenest, smartest, most sustainable district of its kind anywhere in the world”. But nothing has been said of the long-talked-about aim to pedestrianise the street.
Work should start by next month. And while Central London is currently enduring a more-than-80% drop in footfall, the council clearly wants to take advantage of the low visitor traffic to do work that might be harder in usual ultra-busy circumstances.
It said it wants to restore the street and surrounding area as the “must-visit destination of choice for domestic and international visitors, when restrictions ease, as well as the place to start, grow and expand businesses”.
The works starting soon includes additional “pedestrian space, pop-up parks, new lighting, landscaping, greening projects and cultural space to create an attractive, Covid-secure, environment for visitors post-lockdown”.
Council Leader Rachael Robathan said the blueprint builds on previous work and represents confirmation of the body's significant commitment to the area. “It was already in development pre-pandemic but now also responds to massive changes to shopping habits and working patterns, that have been accelerated by Covid-19," she said.
Investment will be focused in the district on three strategically defined areas (Oxford Circus/Bond Street, Marble Arch and East Oxford Street), “with benefits rippling out across the whole District and West End”.
There will be “world class sustainability initiatives to tackle climate change, with a huge greening programme, a pedestrian-first approach and zero-emission transport network”.
The plan will also support small and medium-sized enterprises to establish themselves and reuse and reimagine existing buildings; will deliver a “world-class public realm with a strong focus on play; and strengthen the area’s positioning as “a global centre for culture, arts, leisure and creative industries”.
As mentioned, the council has committed £150 million to kickstart the OSD programmes and attract inward investment, “taking full advantage of the Elizabeth Line opening in 2022 and the area’s links to the wider West End and beyond”. It said 2021 will be a “year of delivery for Oxford Street”.
And it could mean more variety than the street is used to with the council “encouraging a wider range of businesses through a sustained change towards forward-looking brands for a more varied range of shops, including pop-ups, offices, restaurants and cultural or leisure activities”.
It added that the proposed temporary 25-metre-high Marble Arch Hill “could be enjoyed by up to 200,000 people whilst it is operational, subject to whatever Covid restrictions remain at the time. This would support millions of pounds in incremental spending for the local economy across the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in the West End”.
New West End Company CEO Jace Tyrrell said of all this: “The launch of Westminster City Council’s district transformation is a huge milestone as central London starts its recovery. The past 12 months have been the toughest on record for businesses on Oxford Street and the surrounding area, and these ambitious plans are a sign of a forward thinking, sustainable and agile future for the district, creating an altogether stronger and more exciting high street that caters to the needs of the ever-evolving consumer.”
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