City Council to free up pavement space to help businesses and pedestrians maintain social distancing

Published: Friday, 12th June 2020

Oxford City Council, working with Oxfordshire County Council and ODS, is set to introduce a raft of new measures to free up pavement space in Oxford city centre.

This will help pedestrians and businesses maintain social distancing.

The Council’s plan is to make the return of shoppers as safe as possible to help people socially distance and in particular, support people with accessibility problems. The approach is designed to keep the flow of pedestrians moving in busy streets, and provide specific Rest Areas where people can safely congregate.

There will be temporary restrictions on advertising A-boards and peddling, temporarily reducing the number of street trading and busking sites, removing abandoned bikes more quickly, and working with businesses to adjust waste collections to less busy times, where possible.

Plans to make the pavements on our busiest streets one-way to pedestrians will also put in place by the 15th June will also be announced shortly.

The new measures will be introduced from Monday 15 June, when the Government will allow all non-essential shops to reopen following the coronavirus lockdown.

Helping maintain social distancing

The City Council will implement a range of new measures to remove pavement obstructions and help pedestrians maintain social distancing when shops reopen in Oxford city centre.

The measures include:

  • Temporarily restricting the use of advertising A-boards on all city centre pavements, with exceptions for businesses agreed on a case-by-case basis where space allows.
  • Temporarily reducing the number of busking spots, to maximise space for walking and cycling and to avoid audience clusters developing.
  • Temporarily restricting peddling on all city centre streets.
  • Temporarily removing the two daytime street trading spots in Cornmarket Street.
  • Removing abandoned bikes more quickly. Bikes that are clearly unfit to be ridden will be removed immediately, and those secured in public places for more than 36 hours will be removed, and stored by the council.
  • Adjusting waste collection times to avoid peak pedestrian flow hours, where possible, and to enhance the ability to clean the streets in the early mornings.

Where there is enough space, the two Councils are also developing protocols to allow more hospitality businesses to have outside tables and chairs to support a sector that would otherwise struggle to operate commercially with social distancing rules inside their venues.

However, outside tables and chairs will only get permissions where there is enough space to work with the priority focus on social distancing for pedestrians and cyclists.

The City Council is writing to city centre businesses and street traders to make them aware of the new measures. City Council officers will also be on the street once lockdown eases to talk with buskers, pedlars and city centre traders in person about the changes.

The measures will be reviewed every two weeks. They could be eased if pedestrians are able to maintain social distancing without the changes, the County Council decides to widen pavements to create more space for social distancing, or the Government decides that social distancing is no longer needed.

City centre businesses, pedlars, street traders and buskers who have questions about the changes can contact the City Council on: [email protected].

Supporting people with disabilities

As well as helping people maintain social distancing, the new measures will also help make Oxford easier to navigate for people with disabilities.

Those with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users, often struggle to get around pavement obstructions such as advertising A-boards in Oxford’s narrow medieval streets.

Benches and seating will not be removed from Oxford city centre, as this would mean the elderly and those with mobility issues would not be able to get around.

Five flower towers which had been planned for two of the city centres busiest streets will now be placed in quieter locations, most likely in places designated as ‘rest areas’.

The City Council has been holding workshops with people who have insights into disability or who represent disability groups to ensure that the new measures, and the wider proposed changes to Oxford city centre, are as inclusive as possible.

The aim is to ensure that Oxford city centre remains at least as accessible to people with disabilities as it is currently.

Survey of city centre businesses

The City Council has surveyed businesses across the city to get their views on the measures being considered. In total, 191 organisations responded, including some of Oxford’s largest employers, small and large retailers and hospitality businesses, cultural organisations, NHS institutions and university colleges.

Asked whether or not they would support changing the times during which deliveries and waste collections could take place, 49% of businesses were in favour, 11% were neutral and 40% were against.

The City Council is also holding a series of conversations with businesses and key stakeholders to get their views on the proposed changes. A ‘Talk of the Town’ meeting with city centre traders took place last month, with another planned for later this month.

The City Council has provided businesses in Oxford with more than £20m of Government funding to support them through the coronavirus lockdown, alongside a further £57m of business rate relief to more than 1,500 firms across the city.

Wider changes to Oxford city centre

The plans are the first phase of a wider set of proposed changes across the city to support walking and cycling as a way to help people move around the city and restart the local economy.

Initial plans for future phases of “active travel” interventions across the city was announced last week and will be led by Oxfordshire County Council as the relevant transport authority. They include widening footpaths and cycle lanes, and more bicycle parking – to help pedestrians and cyclists maintain social distancing, and support businesses to reopen.

Oxfordshire County Council has committed to invest almost £3m of Government funding to support projects to encourage safe pedestrian and cycle movement in cities. Additionally, the City Council has committed £234,000 to kick start the work to allow pedestrians and cyclists to maintain social distancing.

The City Council is following the High Streets Task Force’s 10 key objectives to support the recovery of high streets, which includes reallocating road space to enable social distancing, stewarding, consistent signage, enhanced cleaning, inclusive design, identifying pinch points, and communicating with businesses.

“Your safety is the most important thing. That means putting in place measures that enable safe social distancing. We're ensuring that there will be enough space on our pavements for people to move around the city while limiting contact with each other. Every person will receive equal consideration and treatment, we're working with disabled people and groups to build back better with an inclusive streetscene. We've never left lockdown before, so as the city centre reopens, we'll be keeping an eye on our approach, formally reviewing it every fortnight and working to ensure that we don't have to re-enter lockdown. We hope you, your loved ones, and our local businesses feel supported at this challenging time and we look forward to welcoming you back to the city centre.”
Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford