Having dropped into the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush out of curiousity rather than a desire to buy anything, it soon became clear that Oxford Street is doomed, and all because of transport policies. Britain’s premier shopping street is a ghastly hassly mess because of the failure of the retailers, Westminster Council, and the various all London bodies such as Transport for London and its predecessors to agree on a workable scheme to pedestrianise it. I can hear the whinges now: Where would the buses go? How would anyone get a taxi? The Central Line can’t cope and so on. All these are solvable with a will and a bit of money.
I wrote a piece about a decade ago saying that it was a nightmare and should be pedestrianised, and any sensible transport planner would surely agree. Yet, as soon as it was mentioned, the taxi drivers and various other vested interests would start moaning that it would be disastrous, no one would go there and it would bankrupt the shops. Yet, last year when there was a traffic free day there, a million people turned up and yet still no one learns the obvious lesson.
Boris, in his cull of transport schemes, has scrapped a plan for a tram along the street, but that was an unnecessary idea anyway. All that is needed is simply to pave over the road, turn the buses around, or change the routes, and get on with it. I rode my bike through Oxford Circus at 8am the other day and amazingly it was already blocked up with buses, everyone of which was empty. No one in their right mind takes a taxi or bus along Oxford Street.
Now with competition from Westfield, which has most of the shops in Oxford Street but far more conveniently laid out and very easily accessible by public transport, and with the recession beginning to bite, it will be Oxford Street that suffers, not Westfield. Time to get your thinking caps on, Messrs John Lewis, Selfridges, etc.