Tonight the New West End Company (NWEC) will lobby the London Mayoral Candidates to pedestrianise Oxford Street by 2012.

The body for London’s West End will quiz the candidates at their question time debate about their focus for the area. The West End has more than£1 billion invested in it over the next five years and the NWEC wants to make sure the focus and necessary economic policy is top of the agenda.

While Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson may have their horns locked on many issues and while Brian Paddick is trying to get his competition to run the marathon with him, all of them should definitely address the West End.

London’s West End attracts more than 200 million visitors a year, who spend£5.5 billion. Yet if London, as a global capital, is to continue to thrive in this tough climate it needs attention.

Many developers and retailers have invested in the West End over the past couple of years and it is starting to look more presentable. Regent Street looks better than ever, despite the loss of department store Dickins & Jones and retailers are starting to spread down the east side of Oxford Street to raise the tone there.

But the major problem that still remains is congestion. Only 7 per cent of shoppers use buses to move around the West End, yet 40 bus routes service the area with up to 220 buses an hour running through Oxford Street at peak times.

The NWEC has enough experience of the bureaucracy of all the necessary parties to know that things can’t change that quickly. It is petitioning that half the traffic be removed from Oxford Street by 2010 and the street to be traffic-free by 2012.

The council needs to get shoppers moving and a dedicated tram or similar transit system is necessary in time for the 2012 London Olympics. Alongside this, the east end of Oxford Street needs to be sorted out to make it a global flagship. London’s most famous shopping street should not be known for its cheap and tatty temporary fashion stores.

While the focus for the 2012 Olympics will be on the east end of London, visitors will use the opportunity to shop in the West End. With all the media attention, London will not have another opportunity as good as this for a long time to sell its wares and put it on the global map. And, if London is projected in a good light, then both retailers and shoppers will want to be there.

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