THE county's new transport boss says she could rethink plans to pedestrianise Queen Street in Oxford, as the opening of the new Westgate Centre draws ever closer.

Yvonne Constance OBE, who was this week appointed to Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet, has revealed she is keeping an 'open mind' about the scheme.

The decision on whether to push ahead with pedestrianisation will be one of the first major issues to come across her desk as she takes over the brief previously held by David Nimmo Smith.

Council officers have recommended the change be in place for the Westgate's reopening in October, due to fears about the safety of buses mixing with the high number of expected shoppers.

But it has been met with vocal opposition from bus companies, who warned the street's closure to traffic would leave buses with nowhere to turn.

An alternative proposal to use Frideswide Square has sparked fears of traffic chaos due to the slow manoeuvres that some 30 buses an hour would have to undertake.

Speaking to The Oxford Times yesterday, Mrs Constance said she was due to meet with council officers to discuss the issue and had not yet ruled anything out – including delaying pedestrianisation of Queen Street.

She said: "I will be asking for an early briefing on this, but it will be approaching the matter with an open mind."

The cabinet member also said a decision last year to route buses through a busy shopping area in Didcot appeared to be at odds with proposals for Queen Street.

Council officers said police had raised concerns about pedestrian safety near the Orchard Centre, in Didcot, but experience in Queen Street had shown 'these [arrangements] operate with good levels of safety and bus drivers exercise high levels of care when travelling through such areas'.

This was the argument bus companies made last December when they unsuccessfully lobbied the county council's cabinet to delay the pedestrianisation of Queen Street in Oxford.

Mrs Constance added: "In Didcot they introduced buses through pedestrian areas so they could serve the Orchard Centre and it caused quite an upset.

"Queen Street was the reference point for that change. But the current proposal for Queen Street seems to be contrary to that.

"I will certainly be paying very close attention to it."

Her comments come after the manager of the Westgate centre said the pedestrianisation scheme was 'vital' to the shopping centre's future success.

Sara Fuge said: "When people come to the Westgate, which could be around 15 million visitors each year, we want them staying in the city and going beyond the centre to places like the Covered Market and other independents.

"I understand people getting in and out of Oxford by bus but pedestrians need to be able to move freely through Queen Street.

"They are more likely to mill about for longer in Cornmarket but they have to be careful with the vehicles in Queen Street and are less likely to go into the shops there."

Last week Oxford Bus Company boss Phil Southall said he remained 'deeply concerned' about the impact of pedestrianisation.

He added: "We can’t emphasise enough how important it will be."

Along with Stagecoach, the company has not yet decided whether it will object to the Queen Street scheme.

County council spokesman Martin Crabtree said: "Cabinet agreed that officers will work on the proposal for an experimental traffic regulation order that would pedestrianise Queen Street – this work is still ongoing."