Plans to pedestrianise Queen Street are in the works as part of the redevelopment of the Westgate centre.
The leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Ian Hudspeth, hopes that developer contributions from the Westgate project will be enable the pedestrianisation plans to take place.
Westgate Development Manager Sara Fuge appeared to back this up, saying: “We are supportive of pedestrianising Queen Street. It would link Westgate to the existing retail area of Oxford, an area that would stretch from Debenhams all the way to the John Lewis store on Thames Street.”
Holly Meehan, a second year linguist and walking enthusiast, expressed her excitement at the plans: “I am frequently frustrated that my ambulatory expeditions are slowed by swathes of shoppers. With Queen Street pedestrianised, I will soon be able to peregrinate around the metropolis to my heart, and feet’s content.”
However the pedestrianisation plans are still dependent on the ongoing discussions over the Westgate plans. A public consultation will take place this month, with the resulting decisions on transport expected before the end of 2013.
They are likely to involve a number of transport changes, including banning buses from Queen Street, leaving already-busy shopping street traffic-free.
However, this would necessitate the substantial re-routing of buses. Hudspeth pointed to the complex nature of the plans, with the range of bus companies currently operating on Queen Street needing to be diverted onto alternate routes. He said: “We need to build on the work already done with the bus companies. Buses would still need somewhere to turn. We would want to get everything in place before the shopping centre reopens.”
The Operations Director of Oxford Bus Company, Phil Southall, echoed these sentiments, saying: “The devil now lies in the detail.”
He added: “The park-and-ride network is going to be crucial to the success, as there will be no extra parking spaces provided in the new scheme.”
The Chair of the Oxford Pedestrians Association and Sushila Dhall, gave her support for the plans. However, Dhall, also a member of the Green Party Oxfordshire and graduate of St Hilda’s College, similarly acknowledged the difficulties of diverting the buses.
These plans follow discussions stemming from 2009, when Transform Oxford, a near-£1 million project, was begun to alter the city’s transport arrangements. Early stages of the pedestrianisation plans were completed in 2009, with Queen Street bus stops moved to surrounding roads, pavements widened and bus numbers reduced. However the project stalled in 2011 due to funding difficulties after government cuts hit the council’s budget.
The Westgate redevelopment is expected to cost £400 million, with John Lewis just one of the stores expected to open in the rejuvenated and expanded shopping centre in 2017.