A LEADING councillor who played a role in pedestrianising Cornmarket has said Oxford’s transport bosses have to “take the bull by the horns” and pedestrianise Queen Street.

The removal of buses from the street leading from Bonn Square to Carfax is seen as a key element of the redevelopment of Oxford’s Westgate Centre.

John Tanner, who was leader of Oxford City Council when Cornmarket was pedestrianised in 1999, says the city’s bus companies should be “equal to the task” of dealing with the change.

It comes after Oxford Bus Company, one of the city’s two main operators, warned about the “significant impact” such a move would have on commuters and shoppers, with concerns still unresolved, even after years of negotiations.

Mr Tanner, who is now the council’s executive board member for a cleaner, greener Oxford, said: “My experience from playing a key part in pedestrianising Cornmarket is that you have to take the bull by the horns. It should be possible to re-route the buses and that’s a task for the bus companies.

“I am sure they are more than equal to the task.

“We have always said it would be better for pedestrians and shoppers if they don’t have to keep looking over their shoulders for a bus.”

The closure would effectively divert services around the heart of the city, forcing them to operate via Castle Street, Norfolk Street and Speedwell Street.

That could lead to increased congestion, greater risks for pedestrians, longer bus journeys and rises in bus fares, the bus firm has said.

Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company’s operations director, has written to the city council, saying: “We understand that this has been requested by one of the key retailers which is driving the development proposals and this is seen as ‘a must have’ for the development to proceed.

“It is important to understand that this closure cannot happen without having a significant impact on services.”

The Oxford Times: John Tanner

John Tanner

It is understood that the “key retailer” Mr Southall referred to is John Lewis, which plans to open a department store as the centrepiece of the new £400m Westgate centre.

John Lewis has declined to set out its view on the issue but the Westgate Alliance, the developer of the new shopping centre, defended the planned pedestrianisation.

Gary Pleasants, a spokesman for the alliance, said: “Redirecting buses away from Queen Street will help to create a more pedestrian friendly and safer environment for a key shopping street at the heart of the city.”

Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Martin Crabtree said: “Although this is not part of the Westgate development application, joint working between the councils, bus companies and the alliance is under way to assess what impact pedestrianising Queen Street would have on the rest of the city centre transport network.

“Depending on the outcome, we would then look to develop detailed proposals for the closure of Queen Street to buses, and consult in due course.”