THOUSANDS of shoppers could be forced to share Queen Street with buses when the Westgate Centre opens in October unless an agreement is reached within the coming days.

Oxfordshire County Council's decision to ban buses from the street - which Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach say would cause traffic chaos across the city - will be referred to the Secretary of State for Transport unless the firms' formal objections are withdrawn by Tuesday morning's cabinet meeting.

Negotiations are expected to continue to the 11th hour but both companies told The Oxford Times their position remained unchanged.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said a decision may not be made by October 24, when the centre opens, leaving buses and fighting for space outside the new £440m Westgate centre.

He said: "There is a possibility a decision won't be made in time and we would have to find some agreement to make sure the safety of pedestrians is observed in Queen Street."

"We will continue to work with the bus companies, we will continue until we have exhausted all opportunities."

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 for pedestrianisation of 18 months.

But the pedestrianisation may not go ahead unless a resolution is found in the coming days.

The new centre could attract 15 million visitors each year to the city centre and the development's transport assessment relies on many coming by bus.

The bus operators said the closure - and lack of turning facility - would cause 'traffic chaos', longer journey times and congestion in St Aldate's and High Street.

A council consultation revealed that just 33 per cent of people supported the experimental order, which would ban buses and taxis from the street.

A cabinet approval of the experimental order on Tuesday would lead to Government intervention, which could take at least two months.

Oxford Civic Society chairman Ian Green said the state of play just months before the £440m centre's opening was 'extremely disappointing'.

He said: "The Westgate has been planned for at least four years if not longer and the access arrangements are still in a very poor state.

"The bus companies have always been very concerned about whether they can deliver the number of people they are being asked to - there's not enough road space.

He added: "We want to see that Queen Street is safe - there will be an astonishing amount of people using it, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays.

"But the system must allow buses to operate effectively, we are still missing a city centre transport strategy."

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.

Managing director of Stagecoach Oxfordshire, Martin Sutton, said: "If the closure of Queen Street to buses goes ahead, there will be chaos in the city centre with severe congestion and overcrowding in St Aldate's and High Street.

"The lack of an adequate place for buses to turn in the Worcester Street area is a major problem, which can only be resolved by providing a proper turning facility for buses away from the heavy flows of traffic in Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street."

Managing director of Oxford Bus Company, Phil Southall, said its temporary routes due to the current closure of Queen Street, due to construction, were leading to longer journey times and increased walking distances.

He said: "The temporary routes, if made permanent, would also result in our buses needing to travel an extra 149,000 miles per year, the cost of which will ultimately be borne by our customers."

Oxford City Council and developers Westgate Oxford Alliance fully backed the pedestrianisation and said it was vital to the centre’s success.