Speaker: Iain Nicholson, the City Centre Manager, addressed the meeting on arrangements for Pedestrians in the City Centre post-Lockdown.
Attendees: Sushila Dhall (Chair), Keith Frayn, Don O’Neal, Deborah Glass Woodin, Mary Clarkson, Jake Backus, Peter Thompson, Peter Headicar, Ruth Davis, Simon Hunt, Penny Jaques, Chris Cowley (Secretary)
Iain Nicholson gave a 20-minute presentation about the measures put in place for pedestrians in the City Centre from 15th June (when non-essential shops were allowed to re-open). The Government had provided a grant of £134,000 to help pay for these measures. The aim was that everyone moving around in the City Centre should feel safe.
Iain stressed that this was Phase 1 and that measures would be changed as the situation developed. Bigger projects would follow in Phase 2, in collaboration with the County Council. He welcomed the views of OxPA’s membership: comments can be left on the City Council website: www.oxford.gov.uk/reopening. (To see the proposed infrastructure changes, the address is: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/activetravel).
Iain’s presentation outlined his 10-point plan:
- Identify hotspots and introduce one-way pedestrian flows
- Stewards to provide guidance to pedestrians and to work with businesses to prevent queues building up
- Provide lots of consistent signage
- Designated rest areas
- Plans for public spaces to include the removal of A-boards and abandoned bicycles and reductions in busking and street trading
- Enhanced cleaning and sanitising
- Guiding principles for inclusive social distancing
- Easier access and egress, including 130 additional bicycle parking places at the Park and Rides (Redbridge 64, Peartree 42, Seacourt 24).
- Special measures for the Covered Market and Gloucester Green
- Communication with businesses
Iain reflected that the guidance had been partially successful but there was a lot of non-compliance with the one-way pedestrian flows. Feedback has been mixed (ie some people feeling there was insufficient signage whilst others felt dragooned). On the first day of trading (Monday 15th June), footfall in Cornmarket was 30,000 pedestrians, which is 29.7% of what it was a year ago
In the discussion which followed the presentation, OxPA members made a number of observations:
- The rest areas could be made more attractive with plants / flowers. However, once cafes open again, these areas would look very different.
- Many people don’t feel confident about returning to the City Centre, particularly those who needed to use public transport. Furthermore, the activities which normally bring many people into the City Centre are still closed (eg museums, volunteering, education, social and cultural activities etc).
- It is important to support and encourage the Covered Market, particularly the non-essential businesses which have been closed during Lockdown. The Gloucester Green market should also be supported.
- Many businesses are likely to struggle until the University opens up again at the beginning of October.
- As a first step, all traffic should be removed from Broad Street and extra space made available to pedestrians and cyclists on St Giles.
- The one-way pedestrian flows could feel intimidating for those who are unable to walk quickly.
- St Aldates is a problem area due to the many bus stops on both sides of the road. A new crossing point is needed near the Post Office.
- Compliance with the one-way pedestrian flows would likely diminish once the pubs re-open and people can consume alcohol.
- A-boards should be banned permanently and replaced with feather flags.
- Tourist coaches should not be parking in St Giles. Research has shown that the average tourist spends just 1.5 hours in Oxford. Measures should be taken to extend this time so that tourists could be dropped off at the Park and Rides.
- Some types of shops are currently very unrepresented in the City Centre (eg toys, knitting and sewing, hardware, outdoor clothing and equipment, etc). It would be helpful to encourage such outlets to bring residents into the City Centre.
- OxPA members commented about the lack of toilet facilities (as the Town Hall and cafes are closed). The only facilities were at Gloucester Green and Market Street: these were considered unappealing and insufficient.
- Cllr Mary Clarkson said that permanent changes would need to be agreed with the County Council. She felt confident that things were moving in the right direction.
- Cllr Mary Clarkson commented that the reason other cities are able to widen pavements and close roads is that they are Unitary Authorities, whereas in Oxford the City and County argue and waste time and nothing gets done as efficiently.
In conclusion: The current arrangements are practical and sensible but do nothing to make the City Centre an attractive place for residents to spend extended periods of time (which it was during Lockdown). The University / Colleges could be encouraged to open up some of their space for residents to enjoy. The footfall during Open Doors demonstrates that there is an appetite for this. OxPA members asserted that this is a perfect opportunity for more radical change which should not be missed. There was general disappointment at the lack of increased pavement space and that no roads were to be closed to motorised traffic immediately. We hope to see more radical change as time goes on.