Oxford City Council commits £234,000 to kick start work to enable social distancing once shops reopen

Published: Wednesday, 27th May 2020

Oxford City Council will spend £234,000 to kick start work on measures, including redesigning road space, to enable pedestrians and cyclists to safely maintain social distances once shops reopen.

The intention is that this is just the first tranche of funding for a programme of works to safely reopen shopping areas, particularly Oxford city centre. The work is being jointly developed by the City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

Central Government announced £250m of funds nationally to support projects to encourage safe pedestrian and cycle movement in cities, and the expectation is that Oxford will benefit from a share of this pot in the coming weeks.

Shops across Oxford to reopen

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (25/5) that the Government will allow all non-essential shops to reopen on Monday 15 June – providing they implement measures to meet social distancing and hygiene standards.

The PM also told people to avoid public transport where possible, and instead encouraged them to walk or cycle, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Guided by these announcements, the City Council and County Council have been working together on a series of changes to Oxford city centre and other shopping areas in Oxford to support businesses to reopen safely.

The changes are focussed on helping pedestrians and cyclists to maintain social distancing while travelling into and around the city centre – and, at the same time, ensuring the proposals do not make it harder for disabled people to access the shopping areas.

The aim is to support businesses to reopen by ensuring the streets around their premises are as safe as possible. The City Council will also share central Government guidance and advice with business owners on how to reopen safely.

First funding to help social distancing

The City Council has now allocated £100,000 of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding to make the emergency changes to support more people to walk and cycle, and has been provided with a further £134,000 of Government funding.

The £134,000 is part of a £50m fund for councils across England to prepare for the safe reopening of high streets and other retail spaces, which the Government announced on Sunday (24/5).

The City Council is working with the County Council, the transport authority for Oxford, on securing agreement to the first phase of the works this week, but it is likely that the funding will be used to widen pavements and bike lanes, install new bicycle parking, and support businesses to reopen.

A series of conversations with businesses and key stakeholders – both to inform them of the proposals and get their thoughts on them – has already started, and the City Council plans further engagement over the coming days. A ‘Talk of the Town’ meeting with city centre traders will take place this week.

Enabling social distancing in the city centre

The City Council and County Council are working together on a wide range of projects to enable shopping areas in Oxford to reopen safely.

Within Oxford city centre, these include:

  • Temporarily reallocating road space to allow people to safely maintain social distancing while walking and cycling into and around Oxford, including segregated cycle lanes where possible. The City Council and County Council are looking into removing some loading bays and car parking spaces, alongside  reorganising bus stops in order to increase the space for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly in parts of the city centre where pavements are most congested
  • Increasing the number of bicycle parking spaces both at park and ride sites and in the city centre. The City Council already has some cycle parking facilities at park and rides to encourage people to do the ‘last mile’ of their commute by bike, but this could be significantly increased
  • Temporarily introducing zones for tables and chairs – kept socially distanced from each other – outside restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes across the city centre, where there is space. Many businesses in this sector may not be able to reopen without these zones
  • Considering pedestrianising parts of the city centre – in particular Broad Street (but retaining access to Turl Street and Market Street) – in order to provide more space for social distancing, with potential for a larger zone for socially distanced tables and chairs
  • Requiring businesses not to use advertising A-boards outside their premises while social-distancing is needed, quickly removing abandoned bikes, and temporarily discouraging street trading, busking and peddling from the busiest city centre streets to provide pedestrians with more space to safely social distance
  • Improved cleaning of the city centre, both during the night and throughout the day
  • Reopening Oxford Covered Market, with managed entrances, social distancing and an upgraded cleaning regime

The funding will also be used to enable pedestrians and cyclists to socially distance in other local shopping centres across Oxford.

The aim is to introduce as many of the measures as possible before Monday 15 June.

More detailed proposals are expected soon.

Ensuring disabled people can access shopping areas

One of the key aims of the project is to ensure that shopping areas, including Oxford city centre, remains accessible for disabled people – and, where possible, that they become more accessible as a result of the changes.

The City Council is in discussions with disability groups in Oxford to ensure that the new measures are as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Longer term benefits of the changes

It is hoped that a number of the changes might be sustained beyond the coronavirus pandemic, to transform the city centre and maintain Oxford’s improved air quality.

Oxford city centre has seen a historic 59% drop in air pollution as a direct result of the coronavirus lockdown. To put this into perspective, over the decade to 2019 air pollution levels in Oxford had decreased by 36.8%.

The potential measures would be supported and informed by the joint transport projects – Connecting Oxford, and the Zero Emission Zone – being brought forward jointly by the City Council and County Council.

“All non-essential shops can reopen in Oxford city centre from Monday 15 June, and it is our duty to ensure that can happen as safely as possible. With that in mind, we have looked at all aspects of the how the city centre works – the transport, pedestrianisation, bike parking, street cleaning and the street furniture – to see if improvements could be made to help people socially distance.

“This £234,000 can kick start these projects, and ensure that as many of them as possible are in place on Monday 15 June. We are working closely with Oxfordshire County Council on this and looking at ways of drawing in additional funding and we hope to be able to make more announcements in the coming days.

“The Transport Secretary has been clear that creating the conditions for safer cycling will be critical. Not only will this keep people who are new to cycling on their bikes, it will ensure they are joined by many others as well. In line with our ambition to be a cycling city, our councils are acting on the Government’s advice and fast-tracking cycle lanes and on-street, cycle parking, and we are giving focus to e-Bikes. We’ll continue to look to Government to financially support our safer cycling efforts.                                   

“Before the pandemic, plans were afoot to close Broad Street to traffic for a second annual Car Free Day. Now our two councils are moving to make every day of the year a car free day for Broad Street. It’s the right thing to do. The Broad is a jewel in Oxford’s crown, with Balliol College at one end and the architectural gems of Wren, Hawksmoor, and Gilbert Scott at the other. Under our plans, Broad Street would trailblaze the move to more liveable streets, with critical parts of the city centre becoming safer and inclusive for all residents and visitors.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford

“Adapting transport will be particularly important as we look to protect the public from infection, and encourage residents to make journeys on foot or by bike.”

“In Oxfordshire, our councillors and transport planners are looking carefully at what we can do to reduce emissions from private vehicles, and enable safer, easier ways to walk and cycle. The recovery offers us a way to build a more sustainable future for residents across Oxfordshire.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for environment