The area around London’s famous Oxford Circus is to be transformed into two pedestrianised “piazzas” after years of deliberation.
Work due to start later this year will include “significant improvements to the public spaces” as well as additional planting and seating in the shopping and leisure district, Westminster City Council and the Crown Estate announced on Wednesday.
Pedestrianising Oxford Circus has been a point of discussion for councils for many years, going back as far as the 1980s, due to the poor air quality, congestion and busy traffic in the area.
Plans were often paused because of difficulties with re-routing public transport, as well as increasing journey times and potential losses for taxi drivers.
A design competition run by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) starting this summer will help to deliver the final scheme to ensure “world-class designs” and “value for money”.
The project will work with Transport for London (TfL) to improve access to Oxford Circus Tube station and prioritise pedestrians.
Westminster City Council said the new Elizabeth Line will bring in an extra 60 million pedestrians a year, and that 70% of people travel to Oxford Street by Underground.
There will be road closures between Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street to the east and Oxford Circus and John Princes Street to the west through experimental traffic orders (ETOs).
Traffic will continue along Regent Street, north and south of Oxford Circus.
The council will monitor and review the experimental changes as a part of the ETOs, considering feedback received from residents, businesses and other stakeholders.
Longer-term plans for Oxford Circus include “major enhancements” to the western and eastern concourses of the Tube station.
The changes also aim to improve air quality as the works are expected to reduce vehicle traffic and improve efficiency of bus journeys across the area.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The West End has taken a huge hit from Covid over the past 15 months and making our high streets cleaner, greener and more attractive is more important than ever to attract visitors and support businesses.
“Westminster Council’s plans, which will start to give pedestrians priority by closing sections of Oxford Street to through-traffic, are hugely welcome and will help transform this landmark location at a crucial time.”
Westminster City Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “In the aftermath of the pandemic, and with the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, there is an overwhelming need and a compelling opportunity to build back better; a business-as-usual approach will no longer work.
“We hope the creation of these pedestrian-only piazzas at Oxford Circus will not only improve safety, security and accessibility but create an iconic destination at the heart of London.”
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses on Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and in Mayfair, said the plans provide “fresh hope” for businesses after a tough year, adding: “With footfall at 50% of what it was pre-Covid this is exactly what retail, hospitality and offices alike need to draw visitors back in, ensuring Oxford Street can be the thriving hub it once was, and we know it can be again.”
The scheme is linked with Westminster City Council’s Greenways project, which is designed to improve the experience of cyclists across the Oxford Street District and in the borough.
Crown Estate chief executive Dan Labbad said: “It is essential, as we rebuild our capital, that we create places that better serve all those who use them – improving air quality, reducing congestion, prioritising safety and delivering a world-class visitor experience.
“These latest plans build on the recent improvements to Regent Street, and will help create a fitting gateway to all that the West End has to offer.”
The plans will be carried out through a “phased approach”, starting with two “car-free” piazzas in Oxford Street, at either side of the Circus, set to be finished by the end of 2021.
The second phase of the programme, “major improvements to the public realm”, will start in spring 2022.
The council has already committed £150 million towards programmes in the Oxford Street District, which before the pandemic was attracting 200 million visitors a year and employing some 155,000 workers.