Top retail streets in London’s West End, the country’s premier shopping destination, should close to traffic on a frequent basis to draw in more custom, it has been proposed.
Oxford Street and Regent Street are typically shut to vehicles a few times a year but the New West End Company (NWEC), the organisation representing retailers and property owners, has floated the idea of regular Sunday pedestrianisation along the lines of the ‘summer streets’ initiative in New York’s Times Square area.
“Why not?” asked NWEC chair Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas as she launched a 10-point manifesto for the area ahead of next year’s mayoral elections.
She said: “Issues of traffic congestion can have an effect on West End visitor numbers, issues that two consecutive mayors have made progress in addressing, but more needs to be done.
“In a recent West End survey 73% of shoppers cited traffic congestion as the number one issue affecting the West End with the majority in support of more traffic-free shopping days.”
Jaeger and Aquascutum owner Harold Tillman, who is also chairman of the British Fashion Council and this week joined the strategic board of NWEC, backed the idea.
He said: “The traffic-free days bring a much needed stimulus to London retailers. I would like to see them happen much more regularly; they are a huge success.”
Tim Tompkins, president of New York’s Times Square Alliance, said: “The benefits that can be gained from pedestrianisation are huge.”
He said that the scheme had helped retailers in New York by boosting the area’s appeal and visitor satisfaction, and pleased property firms because rents rose.
The establishment of a mayoral transport commission headed the NWEC’s action list to improve the area, which generates sales of more than £6bn per year and employs more than 100,000 people.
Retailers would like the number of buses that run along Oxford Street and Regent Street to be drastically cut from 450 per hour at present, as well as other measures such as minimising the impact on business of protests and marches by routing them away from the West End, improving the environment and ensuring sufficient police resources to cut crime.