Westgate redevelopment transport proposals

We are seriously concerned about the inadequate transport assessments.

25 July 2013

The Westgate redevelopment proposals gained outline planning consent in March 2014, but we remain seriously concerned with the inadequacy of the transport assessments and the provisions for travel for the anticipated 25% increase in shoppers in the city centre. Many of Oxford’s arterial roads are already beset with chronic traffic congestion and consistently poor air quality as a result. We are not convinced by the traffic analyses produced to date that these issues will not be exacerbated by the proposed development.

The arrangements for Thames Street appear to be at odds with the City Council’s ambitions to create an attractive urban boulevard to mitigate the isolating effects of the road for the existing and future new residential areas to the south. It is clear that any increase in private car travel is undesirable and, in any event, unlikely, since all the feeder roads are already at or beyond capacity, and the parking provision for the new development is to be marginally reduced. Public transport enhancements are therefore key to the success of the project, yet no detailed analysis of bus routes, stops, frequency or capacity has been published. We have met with bus company managers who share our concern – although bus transport is very flexible and adaptable, the view is that Oxford city centre systems are already very close to capacity, with little that can be done to increase it. We are also surprised and frustrated that so little consideration has been given to the potential for shoppers to use rail travel, and for the provision of attractive access routes between the new Westgate and the railway station. Given the huge investment in the local rail network, the massive increases in passenger traffic, and the fast access (16 minutes between Bicester and Oxford stations for example) which trains can provide, this appears to be a significant oversight, with potential repercussions in the design of the shopping centre access points.

Apart from common sense, there is now a statutory duty for Local Authorities to cooperate, and it is incomprehensible that the County Council’s proposals make no mention of the City Council’s actions or objectives. In particular, has any assessment been made of the effect on the City Council’s proposals for the transformation of Oxpens Road into an urban boulevard, with extensive new residential development adjacent, of the re-routeing of buses on this route, and, if so, has this been accepted by the City Council?

The introduction of a new signalised junction at the south-west corner of the new Westgate development is at odds with City Council proposals for the transformation of the character of Oxpens Road and Thames Street. Likewise, the suggested new signalised junction at the south-east corner of the Westgate site seems inconsistent with the proposals of the City Council, and the inclusion of new bus stops on Speedwell Street and Thames Street needs careful consideration.

Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City Council and Network Rail have jointly commissioned a masterplan for the development of Oxford Station; preparation of this masterplan will include consideration of the option of the re-location of the station south of its current position, and the integration of the rail facilities with a bus interchange, and services for cyclists and pedestrians. The conclusions of this masterplanning will inevitably have a bearing on the nature, routeing and frequency of all kinds of traffic in the area covered by the Westgate proposals, yet neither the developer’s proposals, nor those of the County Council relating to transport issues make any reference at all to the masterplanning currently in progress for Oxford Rail Station, nor to that for the Oxpens areas. This is a very serious omission.

The imminent major investment in transport infrastructure involving rail services, roads and cycling facilities in and around Oxford will have a strategic effect on issues such as travel behaviour, travel modes and connectivity of journeys. Indeed, the purpose of the investment is to do just that. The proposals presented in this consultation show no evidence of consideration of any of these strategic effects. For example, rail travel, cycling and walking are all already showing dramatic increases, yet the proposals map gives no indication of any provision of improved access to the city centre or the new Westgate from the railway station. Likewise, there is no indication of any provisions to encourage or accommodate increased numbers of cyclists. This is at odds with the County and City Councils’ stated policies for promotion of cycling in Oxford.

The suggested new route for London and Airport coaches via Hollybush Row and Park End Street will add a large number of additional large vehicles to these roads. Has any assessment of the effects on congestion and general journey times been made, if not, why not, and if so, what are the conclusions? Specifically, has any assessment been made of the effect on schedules for London and Airport bus services of the re-routeing proposals?

No details are provided of the ‘improvements’ to the Speedwell Street/St Aldates junction to handle additional bus traffic, nor any data on what the volume of additional traffic is likely to be. No mention is made of any need for ‘improvements’ to the junction at Hollybush Row/Park End Street to enable additional bus traffic to be accommodated.

The junction of Hollybush Row/Park End Street forms one corner of Frideswide Square, the most notorious congestion and urban environmental black-spot in Oxford. Why does the map exhibited not show the newly-developed Frideswide Square re-configuration proposals, since these have Cabinet approval for implementation? What assessment has been made of the effects of introducing London and Airport coach service vehicles on the newly-developed proposals for the re-configuration of Frideswide Square? What assessment has been made on the effect on journey times of these services, of the proposed re-configuration?

The additional vehicles which would be routed along Hollybush Row and Park End Street are exclusively diesel-engined and would contribute to the levels of NO and PM2.5 pollutants, which are currently regarded as the most serious detractors from air quality in urban areas. Has any assessment of the effects of these additional vehicles on air quality been made, if not, why not, and if so, what were the conclusions, bearing in mind the already poor standards of air quality in several locations in the city centre?

The text ‘To Station’ shown on New Road is meaningless. Thames Street/Oxpens Road leads equally to the station, by a shorter route from, say, the John Lewis store. It is unclear if the orange line represents the ONLY bus route (so that no buses except London and Airport services would use Hollybush Row), or if this merely represents altered routes.

No details of the actual bus services for each route are provided, and no analysis of journey times for each affected service is provided; the acceptability or otherwise of the proposed re-routeing is thus impossible to judge.
What quantitative assessment has been made of the effects of removal of bus services from Queen Street? How have the benefits been measured and evaluated against the adverse effects? Without data on this assessment, it is impossible to comment on the acceptability of the proposal.

The removal of bus services from Queen Street, and their diversion onto a new route which deliberately incorporates additional 90° corners seems likely to make the journey time from the Castle to Carfax excessive, to the detriment of those incapable of walking between them. The consequences of this seem likely also to deter bus travel generally. Since public transport will be critical to the success of the new Westgate development, any actions which make its use less attractive will be detrimental.

It is impossible to comment on the ‘improvements’ to pavements, pedestrian crossings and bus stops since no information is provided; for bus stops, the number, nature and frequency of the bus movements, and hence the dimensions and layout of the stops, and the relationships and dimensions of footpaths, cycle tracks and carriageways, and the materials used in the ‘improvements’, are key factors in assessing the merits of the proposals, yet none of this information has been provided.

No indication is shown of any proposals for the improvement of Old Greyfriars Street, Turn Again Lane or the lower end of St Ebbe’s Street, yet these are part of the public realm which will be closely associated with the new Westgate development, as evidenced by the reference to the location of taxi drop-off/pick-up here. It will be important to the success of the development that all the surrounding public realm is improved consistently.

In conclusion, the proposals shown on the ‘Wider transport proposals’ map are far too simplistic, with far too little evidence of detailed consideration having been given, to enable any judgement to be made of the overall acceptability. As presented, the proposals appear to be a very superficial sketching out of some possible solutions, with little or no consideration of many of the key issues and consequences, without which the merits simply cannot be judged.