Ambitious plans are afoot to develop Oxford Street in London, to enhance and modernise the historic shopping street and to bring it in line with life in modern Britain. There is much to like about this proposal but not everybody is delighted about it.
What has been proposed
The Oxford Street Programme represents a £90M investment by Westminster Council to restore the famous London shopping district, enhancing its kerb appeal, increasing its accessibility and improving the safety of pedestrians accessing the area.
600 businesses across a range of industry sectors, including property and hospitality in the local area, have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they pledge to play their part in enhancing Oxford Street. The ambitious plans cover the entirety of Oxford Street, which measures 1.8 km in length and stretches from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road.
The infrastructure work is expected to begin in the Autumn of 2024 and will see the creation of 12 new pedestrian crossings and improved access in 45 locations along the street. Additionally, new green areas and pleasant seating spots will be provided, which will allow shoppers, tourists and locals the ability to relax in these modern and attractive surroundings.
How the city of London will benefit
Drawing shoppers and visitors to the city of London will represent a much-needed boost to the local economy, and with rumours already circulating that major brands such as IKEA and HMV plan to take up space in the newly revamped Oxford Street, it is likely that footfall to the area will dramatically increase.
Bringing new businesses to the West End will not only increase visitor numbers and consumer spending but also create a raft of new jobs for local people, a move which will help to stabilise the economy and encourage greater activity within the city, following years of remote working which have seen commuter numbers decline.
Westminster Council are keen to make visiting this iconic street an experience to remember and plan to open new galleries and art spaces to attract different types of clientele to the area, enhancing its appeal and expanding its reach - a move that is designed to create a modern environment which locals and visitors alike will be proud of.
An unhappy customer
But not everyone is happy about these plans. M&S is one firm that has been very outspoken in this area, recently making headlines as they launched legal action against the government who have interjected in their planning application to demolish and rebuild their flagship Marble Arch store.
The company alleges that the existing infrastructure poses a health and safety risk to its occupants as it contains asbestos, and their proposal to demolish the building has been determined by an independent expert as being the only realistic course of action.
The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, has blocked their plans due to heritage and environmental concerns, which the retailer considers to be misguided and anti-business.
M&S has occupied its spot on Oxford Street since 1938, and if a compromise cannot be reached, there is a possibility that the retailer will vacate its position in a move which could devastate the Oxford Street Programme.
This ambitious programme is proof if ever it was needed of the importance of consultation and cooperation. There are many benefits to be achieved by revamping and revitalising Oxford Street, and yet a failure to agree on proposals which have been in the pipeline for many years could threaten the success of the entire endeavour.
This proposal for restoring the West End will create jobs across all industry sectors, from planning, quality control and construction right through to professional functions, retail and hospitality positions. It will see talent flood in from around the country and bolster visitor numbers to the Capital.
We at Build Space hope that M&S and Michael Gove can reach an agreeable position which will allow the retailer to continue to occupy their position on Oxford Street and for the restoration of the shopping district to continue as planned, attracting the investment, business and tourism that is required to maintain London's position as a global leader in these areas.