Vote 3rd May 2018
"Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street off the table for good"
The post election statement from Westminster City Council
As many will now be aware, the letter (click on the pdf icon) from Westminster City Council was sent out last week to the residents of Westminster. This letter states unambiguously that “local people essentially rejected pedestrianisation through the ballot box” and that “there was a very strong democratic mandate that the pedestrianisation scheme under consideration is not what people want”.
The Campaign Against the Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street was the party that enabled this strong mandate to be delivered. By bringing the issue out into the election process both the Labour and Conservative parties were forced to address it and make major concessions over their pre-election stances. In spite of this CAPOS still received many hundreds of votes in three separate wards.
The WCC letter goes on to state unambiguously: “As a result, we have taken the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street off the table for good”.
It is therefore now clear that the future of Oxford Street is to be an open Oxford Street, barring any ill-advised unilateral action from the Mayor. Our campaigning job, therefore, is now done and it is time for for the various West End stakeholders and amenity societies to work to help achieve an improved, but open, Oxford Street for all.
The results are in!
Throughout this election, the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street has sent out one message loud and clear. That message is that residents are totally against any form of pedestrianisation of Oxford Street.
Residents have been repeatedly told that Oxford Street is one of the most polluted roads in Europe, so it was hardly surprising that when the Mayor came up with his proposals to divert all its traffic through the nearby streets there was resistance to this from those that live in them. The West End Community does not want TfL buses and taxis diverted through its neighbourhoods. The Mayor needs to clean up his transport before he tries to shift the problems onto 50,000 Londoners.
The depth of opposition to the Mayor's scheme was made very clear through the several consultations on Oxford Street, in meetings and through various media outlets. However only by standing candidates in the 3 most affected wards to fight in the local elections were we finally able to make Westminster Council understand that there was serious opposition to this and focus their attention on it.
This step proved so effective and carried such popular resonance that both major parties abandoned their previous positions and have now come out against pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. Last week the point of forming CAPOS was wholly vindicated when Westminster Council released an authoritative statement from Daniel Astaire, Cabinet Member responsible for Oxford Street, made in a full session of the Council. He announced that what is now “the Mayor’s” pedestrianisation project was being stopped. The Council finally acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of Westminster's residents and businesses are opposed to the concept of pedestrianising Oxford Street. He went on to say that there were many problems with the present scheme, it was not acceptable to the Council and that there were many other ways of addressing the issues on Oxford Street other than by pedestrianisation. Later Councillor Astaire also added that if the Mayor wanted to go ahead it would take him up to 4 years to be able to take the road off WCC, if he ever could.
The Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street has therefore succeeded in doing exactly what it set out to do. Our job is, therefore, for the moment, accomplished. The Conservatives and Westminster Council have made their pre-election announcement to abandon pedestrianisation. The electorate has heard this and has taken them at their word. We now have a Conservative council that, by listening to the electorate during the campaign, has been seen by all to have pulled away from a Labour Mayor and his scheme for pedestrianisation. By making this decision they have retained many votes that they might well otherwise have lost. Further, we also have a Labour opposition that has, at least in our key wards, come out unambiguously against pedestrianisation for the first time and distanced themselves from the Mayor’s plans.
The Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street has therefore succeeded in its manifesto commitment, which was to get all parties to work for the improvement, not closure of Oxford Street. Gaining votes was never our primary purpose, getting pedestrianisation abandoned was. The fact is that even after both major parties started making claims in line with our policy in the middle of the election, with the intention of removing the point of a separate party to stand on the pedestrianisation issue, the votes given to the three CAPOS candidates, in all 3 wards, considerably exceeded the Liberal Democrat and Green votes and in 2 wards ran extremely close to the Labour candidates. This was all done by a party formed a couple of months ago, without any of the benefits of all the resources and experience available to the national parties and one run entirely by local volunteers.
We would, therefore, like to pass on our thanks to all those who have helped us over the last month without whom this outcome would not have been possible. Many have willingly given their time and made contributions to help fight to protect their neighbourhood from being damaged by the proposed plans. We are grateful for all they have done and pleased that their hard work has proved fruitful and has halted the Mayor's plans for pedestrianisation, hopefully for good.
Pre Election Update
The Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street has already had a dramatic effect on the electoral climate. It has concentrated minds. Only since the Campaign announced that they were standing candidates have the other parties begun to address this critical issue directly, and brought it to the forefront of the political agenda.
A few days ago the Westminster Cabinet Member responsible for the Oxford Street project, Daniel Astaire, announced in a full council meeting that: "TfL and the Mayor are the main proponents of the changes to the street, but it belongs to the Council and the decision rests with us. I have informed them (much to some surprise) that detailed work on a scheme is to be stopped."
He also announced at a meeting last week of the Marylebone Forum that any legal move by the Mayor to take over Oxford Street, as he has threatened to do, would be resisted and could take up to four years to happen, if at all. But all this has to be treated with an element of caution. Councillor Astaire is to stand down next week, so is work only being halted because there is an election coming up, and the unpopular scheme has become an inconvenience? What view will his successor take? They have changed their minds before, they can change their minds again.
Meanwhile when asked about this, a spokesman for the Mayor has said: “The Transformation of Oxford Street is a joint project between Westminster council, TfL and the Mayor… We continue to work closely with Westminster council to look at all the latest consultation responses in detail..” Further the Deputy Mayor for Transport does not seem to have been told that the scheme has been stopped. Only earlier this week she was addressing the World Built Environment Forum on the: “flagship project to transform Oxford Street into a pedestrian-only zone”.
The uncomfortable truth is that there is still a joint plan and even if Westminster Council have changed their minds, the Mayor definitely has not. He has not altered his position in wanting to race headlong into pedestrianising Oxford Street. There is no guarantee that work will not be restarted again after the election, in line with what is set out in the Conservative Manifesto.
Perhaps some people need reminding what the Westminster website still about pedestrianisation:
“Mon, 06/11/2017 Ambitious plans for the start of the transformation of the Oxford Street area, centred (sic) on new world-class public spaces, were unveiled today by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Robert Davis MBE”. November 2017 Oxford Street consultation launch:
The statement above and the policy that is actually set out in the Westminster Conservative Manifesto makes it clear that there are plans and the plans will be supported, provided certain “pledges” are satisfied and Westminster Council gets more money from the Mayor than is presently on offer.
So there are in fact now at least three different Conservative positions on pedestrianisation. There is the official Westminster and Conservative manifesto policy referred to above. There is the one as now recently stated by Councillor Astaire. Then, as if further contradictions were needed, there is the “No Plans” view, as set out by the Conservative councillors in the Marylebone wards. They do not oppose the plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street because they have now decided that there are NO plans. What exactly does this mean? Surely Westminster Council has just subjected Westminster residents to two and a half major consultations on the TfL/WCC plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street?
Meanwhile, perhaps mindful of Conservative discomfort on the subject, the Labour party has chosen simply to ignore the fact that there are any proposals to pedestrianise Oxford Street at all. Because they are pro-pedestrianisation they find it electorally convenient to keep quiet about it in an area which is against pedestrianisation. Instead their ward circulars (with the recent exception of the West End Ward) are content to report on more electorally comfortable matters and fail to even mention Oxford Street.
We can see just how important this issue is to the Labour Party from the Westminster Labour Manifesto, which gives pedestrianisation under four lines in a 25 page document. They are happy to work with the Mayor’s transformation proposals to pedestrianise Oxford Street, but will “exert pressure on TfL to restrict traffic being diverted onto residential streets.” This is hardly convincing, we are not told what would happen if TfL choose to ignore this pressure, because the answer is they would do nothing. Westminster Labour Party works closely with the Labour Mayor and, if they get elected, they will adopt his policy on Oxford Street. The quickest route to pedestrianisation is to vote Labour.
One party that truly has no plan is the Liberal Democrats. Their manifesto fails even to mention Oxford Street, although when pressed they say they are pro-pedestrianisation, apparently because it will benefit the large stores on Oxford Street.
The Green Party, whose main agenda is to protect the environment, are against pedestrianisation for the very sensible reason that it will damage the surrounding areas by creating more pollution from traffic displacement. If even the Green Party can see the idea is disastrous, why is it so difficult for others just to say NO to the Mayor's misguided scheme.
Campaign Oxford Street is saying NO. It has no political agenda. It has a residents’ agenda free from political necessities and allegiances - it has a scrap pedestrianisation manifesto. It has not changed what it is saying halfway through the election, unlike the Conservatives. It is consistent, it wants to see Oxford Street improved, but without pedestrianisation, in a way that does not ruin the areas around it. There are many ways this can be accomplished whilst keeping Oxford Street open to traffic, and these have been published on its website.
If residents want to see Oxford Street improved, not pedestrianised, they should give just one of their 3 votes to the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street on the 3rd May.