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“People who argue that Oxford

Street is in danger are just wrong,” Smith insists. “I don’t think it will ever become irrelevant because of the sheer size of it as a retail offer. “Landlords are starting to think

strategically, collectively,” he says. “They are learning from the single- ownership streets. Because of the huge asset value of these buildings it is vital to think sustainably.” As an attempt to provide a sense

of landlord-led coherence to the fragmented street, the New West End Company was formed as a Business Improvement District in 2005. In December 2012 it was given a new five-year mandate. Now the focus of the group, which pulls together the area’s landlords and helps them to work together, will be an “Oxford Street makeover”, with a particular focus on the eastern end of the street (see ‘The influence of Crossrail’). “What it shows is that the high street

works,” says Smith. “We talk about the death of the high street, but this is the national high street, and year on year there is footfall and sales growth.”

But otherwise there is little that

other streets could learn from it. “It is such an entirely different entity and it is a window to the world.” But in spite of its success, and in spite of its enduring appeal, even the street’s fans cannot escape one fundamental truth: “It is a pretty horrendous way to shop,” says Smith. “The best thing would be to pedestrianise it,” he adds, warming to his theme. “It would make such a difference. And there are no WCs! If you spend half a day there with kids it is impossible. London is an unbelievable retailing city – international tourists come here and you have one grotty WC for the whole west street.” “And as for food and drink – there is

no real provision. Westfield has the most beautiful food court, but Oxford Street has a few waffle bars and a pizza place. Landlords would do well to make some improvements. And they are.” Smith has a point. One thing has

definitely changed about Oxford Street since its days as the Gallows Road. By the time the condemned arrived at the Tyburn Tree they were invariably paralytic, as tradition dictated that they

stop for a drink at every alehouse on the way. Modern-day Oxford Street can boast only one pub. The condemned of today, making the trip through the pressing throng from one Primark at Tottenham Court Road to the other at Marble Arch, arrive clean and sober.


Despite the success of the western end of Oxford Street, a Colliers International report shows that five per cent of retail units at the eastern end are empty – one of the highest vacancy rates among London’s main shopping streets. “While Oxford Street has not escaped

the freeing of space due to retailers falling into administration, it has fared far better than many others,” says Mark Charlton, head of research and forecasting at Colliers International. “Key stores, or those in flagship locations, have been saved, and where stores have ceased to trade, they have been swiftly taken up by other retailers.”


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