Oxford Street

MQT on 2014-10-22
Session date: 
October 22, 2014
Question By: 
Stephen Knight
Liberal Democrats
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Will you look again at plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street?


Answer for Oxford Street

Answer for Oxford Street

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  Thank you very much, Stephen.  This is the sort of Schleswig-Holstein question of London traffic because everybody in abstract would love to do what you would propose and just pedestrianise it.  It is only when they start to look at the consequences for retail and the actual economic impact that they shy away. 

Whilst I am very interested in your study and I see that you have some people who support it, the problem I have is that the West End Partnership of big shops does not want it.  The New West End Company (NWEC) does not want it.  The residents of course would suffer grievously from buses that had been diverted off Oxford Street going up their streets.  It would be absolute hell for many people living in the vicinity. 

Therefore, we need to look at some very cunning solutions and we are.  We are looking at all sorts of ways of connecting the shops higher up with passerelles or skyways or whatever.  Other schemes like that are now under consideration. 

I am going to be honest with you; full pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, Stephen, is just not something that we can impose against the very clear wishes of the major retailers, who would, they believe, lose footfall. 

Stephen Knight AM:  Thank you, Mayor, for that answer and for having looked at the report that I published yesterday as my contribution to this debate. 

You talked about the consequences and there are clearly consequences for the people using the shops, the customers, as well as for the shops.  In terms of trade, when we have had very-important-person (VIP) days, we have seen the footfall on Oxford Street massively increasing.  In other words, more people flock to Oxford Street to do their shopping when it is traffic-free. 

The consequences at the moment of the traffic on Oxford Street are that shoppers face one of the most dangerous streets in London. In terms of road traffic accidents with one person knocked down on Oxford Street every five days on average and we know that in terms of nitrogen dioxide pollution, we have the highest recorded rates of that pollutant in Oxford Street of anywhere in the world that has been measured. 

In terms of the current situation, it clearly is not sustainable and there is a huge impact. We have some evidence that pedestrianising it increases the number of people wanting to use it. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is not true.  Unfortunately, what happens is ‑‑ 

Stephen Knight AM:  If you talk to shoppers they all want to see it. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is not true.  Actually, when they have the traffic-free days there, their footfall goes down.  

Stephen Knight AM:  That is not, Mr Mayor, what you and indeed the NWEC were saying when they were promoting the car-free days, is it, Mr Mayor? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am afraid that is not what happens.  The second point is -- I do not buy clothes very often.  I buy clothes about once every two years. 

Two years ago, I had a brilliant idea and I thought I would go to Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street and just stock up on clothes.  The way I did it was I caught a bus because I thought it would be too difficult to drive.  It was absolutely fantastic.  The bus took me virtually door-to-door.  I loaded on all sorts of stuff and Bob’s your uncle.  I would not have been able to do that under your crazy pedestrianisation scheme. 

Stephen Knight AM:  Lots of people do their shopping in pedestrianised shopping centres, don’t they? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Most of the retailers in Oxford Street - virtually all of them - agree with this fundamental point.  Although they want fewer buses, they do not want no buses.  

Stephen Knight AM:  As my report points out, we could have an electric shuttle bus. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):   Can I advise you to consult with your neighbour on your immediate right, who has actually ‑‑ 

Stephen Knight AM:  I do, frequently. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ produced some very good work on this and understands the problems extremely well.  With Victoria’s [Victoria Borwick AM] investigations into Oxford Street - and I do not wish in any to minimise what you have done - she has really spent a long time looking at it, thinking about it, and representing the views of everybody on Oxford Street.  The solution that you propose, whilst dramatic and interesting, is not one that in the end is going to commend itself to anyone. 

I will give you another reason.  If you look at long pedestrian precincts anywhere in this country or indeed around the world, if you deprive them of the activating effect and the enlivening effect of at least some traffic, they can become very dead and very different in their characters.  Not every pedestrian precinct around the world is always an attractive place to be;  I just sow that thought in your mind, Stephen.  When you call for complete pedestrianisation, I do not think it is the way forward. 

Stephen Knight AM:  Thank you for that.  What I will say is that it is astonishing that you think it is beyond human ingenuity to find solutions to pedestrianising Oxford Street. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, I do not, but all I am saying is ‑‑ 

Stephen Knight AM:  I am not calling for you to reroute the Nile.  I am asking you to reroute some buses. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do not think that.  I am just saying that your particular solution is not, I think, one that will succeed. 

There are fantastic solutions.  You could do a tram.  However, the difficulty would then be that you would have huge termini at either end, you would have to work out the interchange between the buses and the tram at both ends and you would have a big land take, to say nothing of the expense involved.  You could do a cable car.  You could. 

Stephen Knight AM:  Perhaps on that note, Mr Chairman ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You could try a cable car.  I will ‑‑ 

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  I think we are speculating now.  Assembly Member ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, I am not.  I am not.  No, on the contrary ‑‑

Stephen Knight AM:  I hope, Mr Mayor, you will read my report and give it very thorough consideration.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  These are not my proposals, by the way, but proposals by private sector developers who came forward with an interesting scheme for a cable car.  I do not think that is likely, unfortunately, to commend itself, either. 

Richard Tracey AM:  I was actually going to raise the impracticality of this questioning, particularly as regards deliveries, but I think you have answered that.