A SENIOR government minister could be forced to decide on the future of Queen Street after Oxford Bus Company gave a stinging response to 'absurd' pedestrianisation plans.

Following a formal objection to the closure of the shopping street to buses, the decision could now fall to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Oxfordshire County Council put the proposal forward to maintain public safety when the Westgate Centre opens but in its response to the formal consultation, Oxford Bus Company said the plans were not workable meaning a formal review could be needed.

It revealed that pedestrianisation would result in buses travelling an additional 149,000 miles a year, with an extra six buses needed to maintain the current timetable costing £1.5m.

In a 12-page response to the county council consultation, which concluded on Friday, managing director Phil Southall urged the council to withdraw the scheme to allow more time for Queen Street to be a 'shared space', with the matter reviewed once the £440m Westgate Centre opens in October.

He said: "Oxford Bus Company (and Thames Travel) has clear evidence that the proposals will increase journey times for passengers, increase mileage, compromise reliable operation of services through inadequate lay-over provision, negatively affect air quality and create additional at-stop congestion."

The company has calculated the additional miles travelled will create an extra 208 tonnes of vehicle emissions, in a city where a low emission zone has been introduced.

Mr Southall also said the company was concerned by the 'increased walking time for people accessing the city centre from proposed new bus stop locations'.

He added: "We have further concerns that people may as a result be more tempted to use cars to reach the city centre, contrary to the Oxford Transport Strategy."

The bus company director went on to warn the result of pedestrianisation would be 'a worsening of air quality due to vehicles being crammed into fewer and fewer streets, a reduction in levels of service to the travelling public due to the time penalty of longer routes around the city centre and increased congestion'.

If members of the council's cabinet agree next month to back pedestrianisation on an 18-month 'experimental' basis the matter will be referred to the Government for review, as the bus company is significant stakeholder in the scheme.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said talks with the bus companies were continuing.

He added: "We need to find a solution that maintains the excellent bus services we have in Oxford and balance that with anticipated demands in terms of the number of shoppers there will be in Queen Street once the new Westgate Centre opens."

He said he was confident an agreement could be reached but Martin Sutton, managing director of Stagecoach, has also confirmed it has objected to the plans.

The council has not said what it will do should Mr Grayling reject the plans but spokesman Martin Crabtree said if he approves the change then it should not delay the scheme's implementation.

The bus companies previously supported plans for pedestrianisation on the condition a new turning circle would be created for buses in Worcester Street but backed out after Nuffield College – which owns land needed for the circle – objected.

According to the council, buses will instead be asked to turn at a 'combination' of the following locations - The Plain, Butterwyke Place, Thames Street/St Aldate's, Hythe Bridge Street, Park End Street and Oxford rail station.

At the moment Queen Street is closed to buses while work is carried out at the Westgate Centre.

The street is scheduled to re-open in September to buses when the current work is completed but is due to close a few weeks later with 18 months of pedestrianisation due to start on October 22, two days before the Westgate Centre reopens.

Bus services affected by the closure include the 3 to Iffley Road and Rose Hill, the 8 and 9 services for London Road and the X3 service to Abingdon.

Pedestrianisation in Queen Street has been backed by Oxford City Council and Oxford Westgate Alliance, which runs the shopping centre.