By Owen Sheppard, local democracy reporter
The £150 million transformation of Oxford Street is about to begin with the addition of rows of new trees, plants and seating areas.
Diggers arrived this week as work started on the 1.2-mile stretch of iconic high street, which will receive 25 new mature trees and 1,500 new plants of 65 different species.
Also in time for summer, 55 seating areas and several “pocket parks” will be created along its side streets going west from Oxford Circus.
Karen Lord, head of the John Lewis Oxford Street branch, said: “We welcome the much needed improvement to the public space on Oxford Street which will both prepare for the opening of Crossrail and help encourage shoppers and visitors to come back to the West End.”
These upgrades are a small part of the long list of developments planned along the route from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road.
And over the next four years, Westminster Council also plans to invest in the Marble Arch Hill, free WiFi infrastructure and smart lamp posts.
As London eases out of lockdown, beginning with the reopening of retail on April 12, the council aims to reassert Oxford Street as “as the centre of a world leading retail and leisure district”.
Westminster Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “The pandemic has been a hammer blow for retailers and Oxford Street has suffered as much or more than any other high street in the country.
“Today is significant because work is underway. It is critical that we act urgently to restore confidence in the nation’s favourite shopping district.
“These initial measures, which should be completed in time for summer, will literally pave the way for an economic recovery. They will create a new visitor-friendly environment and reinforce the area as one of the best places in the world to live, work, shop and visit.”
It comes after questions had been asked about the future of city centre retail, as the pandemic accelerated the public’s growing preference for online shopping.
However council chiefs predict that other businesses or cultural attractions will fill spaces left by the likes of Debenhams and TopShop which closed permanently in 2020.
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