Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street should be for good, not just for one day before Christmas

I had a surreal moment on Saturday morning, standing in the middle of Oxford Street with no traffic and hardly any people around either. That was because Saturday was the annual traffic-free day in the West End, when not just Oxford Street but other key shopping roads like Regent Street were closed to traffic and given back to pedestrians.

It was bitterly cold but by the time I emerged from Selfridges for the official launch at 1100, shoppers were out in force. Apparently £250m was spent in the day - although like all statistics at this time of year I remain sceptical about how that is measured - but there’s no doubt the day had a positive effect and some of the stores I went in, notably John Lewis and Schuh, were rammed.

The arguments for and against pedestrianising Oxford Street are well-rehearsed. Normally I’d run a mile from shopping there on a Saturday but on traffic free day it was a genuine pleasure. So what if a few buses need to be curtailed at Marble Arch or Tottenham Court Road? It’s not as though there’s ever anyone on them, it’s usually quicker to walk and the Central Line runs parallel to the street anyway.

The West End has big challenges ahead, with the lockdown for the Olympics and next year a big closure of one side of Oxford Street by Bond Street station for Crossrail. If the chaos during the closure of the Tottenham Court Road end this year is anything to go by, there’s going to have to be a lot of hard work not to deter shoppers. As we’re going to see at Christmas - especially with the weather as nasty as it is - it doesn’t take much these days to persuade shoppers to stay at home and shop online.

What would be really clever would be to use this closure as a trial for complete pedestrianisation. Divert the buses down parallel streets like Wigmore Street and take the opportunity to give Oxford Street back to shoppers. There’ll be a bit of disruption at first, but the bus passengers and cabbies will get used to it, and London will have a shopping street it can genuinely be proud of.