Christian WolmarFri 8 Jun 2018 17.33 BST
Westminster city council’s decision to block the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street threatens to undermine Sadiq Khan’s hopes of a legacy that will be remembered for decades. Khan is now facing the biggest test of his mayoralty. If he allows the scheme to fall by the wayside, his tenure will be seen as a failure and London will be left with a shabby, polluted street as its once-famous commercial centre.
The pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, which Khan adopted as his policy after I suggested it at one of the hustings during the mayoral candidate selection process, is key to its future. With online shopping causing daily casualties of well-known high-street retail names, is it any wonder that fewer people want to brave the fume-filled narrow stretches of pavement when 50% of the street’s space is given over to empty buses and taxis? There have been four deaths and numerous serious injuries caused by motorised traffic on the road in the two years since Khan took over. This carnage should not be allowed to continue.
Moreover, there is the arrival in December of Crossrail, whose trains will bring up to 1,200 people into the street’s two stations, Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street, from a single train – and there will be up to 24 per hour in each direction.
Most cities in the world have learned that pedestrianised areas lead to an improved economy and a better environment and yet Westminster, a deeply reactionary Tory-led authority which makes tens of millions of pounds of profit from parking tickets and fines, insists London remain in the dark ages. Its Tory leader Nickie Aiken, who, astonishingly, revealed the council’s decision to block pedestrianisation on the very day House of Fraser announced it was closing its store, admitted in double negative speak that, “we do think that most people, ourselves included, feel that doing nothing is also not an option”.