A pile of mud won’t save Oxford Street

A picture of a small artificial hill with thin vegetation and small trees with a metal staircase running up it. Part of Marble Arch can be seen to its right and a road, cars and a blue traffic barrier are in the foreground.
Marble Arch Mound, London

The other day a Twitter friend posted a picture of a large mound which had been erected (temporarily) on the island next to Marble Arch in London and said she hoped this was a joke. Sadly, it’s for real: the structure, which resembles a spoil tip poised to engulf the actual arch and the rest of the roundabout, has viewing platforms at the top, opens today (26th July) and will be there until next January; visits have to be booked and tickets start at £4.50 for something that is on public land (if you’re in London, there are other hills you can visit for free, which may be nearer to you and offer better views than this). The local council seems to envisage it as a way to attract visitors back to Oxford Street; according to Westminster city council’s deputy leader, people “are not just coming to Oxford Street for the shops anymore; people are interested in experiences and destinations”.

The Guardian article does mention that Marble Arch’s location, in the middle of a major roundabout (the arch itself was originally outside Buckingham Palace, then relocated to an entrance to Hyde Park before the construction of the roundabout left it isolated), is a problem, but as a way of attracting people to Oxford Street, another aspect of its location lets it down. Marble Arch has a Tube station, but only on the east-west Central Line and that only serves one major rail terminal, Liverpool Street, which is at the far end of London. All the lines that serve major rail terminals arrive from the north or south at Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus or Bond Street. So, it’s out of the way for most people unless they’re heading between Oxford Street and Edgware Road or Hyde Park. It has bus links to Victoria and Paddington, but these are likely to be slower than the Tube. It does offer views over Hyde Park, but why would you pay to see that when you can take a walk in the park for nothing?

But in any case, this pile of mud doesn’t change the fact that Oxford Street is one of the most unpleasant places to shop in the country. It is choked with traffic, even though the traffic is mostly restricted to buses and taxis (though parts of it are open to other traffic as access to other roads). Regent Street, another street with a lot of prestigious shops along it, is also choked with traffic. Regent Street at least has the famous shops such as the Hamley’s toy shop; Oxford Street is full of the same chain stores you can find on any high street or suburban shopping mall where it is a lot safer to shop because of lack of traffic, but even they have been dying because of competition from online stores, sometimes the chains’ own. It is only people who do not know better who will travel miles to shop at chain stores on the only unpedestrianised high street in the country. The only way to save Oxford Street is to pedestrianise it and shift the buses and taxis to other nearby roads such as Wigmore Street and Brook/Grosvenor Street.

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