Shoppers deserve much better than the dangerous, polluted conditions stifling pedestrians on London’s busiest high street.

Picture this: a new shopping street is being constructed right in the centre of London.

The street will include flagship stores from Selfridges, John Lewis, Primark, House of Fraser, Debenhams, the largest Topshop in the world and a host of other UK and international brands.

In the adjacent streets, there will be stores from all the world’s leading luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Hermès and Prada.

This new shopping thoroughfare is being designed to have a pedestrian area wide enough to cope with the huge number of people that will flock to the street and its stores.

Street furniture including seating, small trees, flower beds, and public art will augment the retail offer to create the most popular shopping street in the world.

But wait a moment.

Although there are four Tube stations along the street, the local bus companies are insisting that they be allowed to drive their buses through the main pedestrian area and taxi firms are demanding that they be allowed to do the same.

And there’s a new phenomenon – cyclists are given permission to ride their bikes down the pedestrian area.

High street hazards

You wouldn’t do this, would you, if you were designing this shopping street today? Yet this is what Oxford Street is – and it’s a disgrace.

It could and should be so much better.

“Oxford Street is a disgrace. It could and should be so much better”

Peter Williams,

The most significant retail hub in the UK and yet it doesn’t meet the needs of its customers.

Only once you are inside the destination stores such as Selfridges and John Lewis do you feel that you have escaped the mayhem of the street.

Despite its use being restricted to buses and taxis Oxford Street is clogged with traffic, with more space per person being dedicated to those people in motorised transport than the pedestrians.

A recent study by scientists from King’s College London found that Oxford Street had the highest level of nitrogen dioxide in the world caused by exhaust fumes, making it the most unhealthy street in London – and yet it is the most populated with pedestrians.

It can be dangerous to go from shop to shop as you have to navigate across a busy road, and some of the cyclists ignore the traffic signals adding another hazard to your journey.

Better treatment

It shouldn’t be like this.

I don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge and the complexity of the solution but the status quo should not be allowed to continue.

“The status quo should not be allowed to continue”

Peter Williams,

Crossrail may well help but it will only ease rather than solve the problem.

Over the years, various solutions have been proposed, including terminating the bus routes at Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road and installing travelators down the street.

Virtually every visitor to London makes a pilgrimage to Oxford Street and for those of us living or working in the city, it is our high street.

We all deserve to be better treated.

  • Peter Williams is chairman of and Mister Spex and a former chief executive of Selfridges