OPINION - The Standard View: Oxford Street 2.0 would be long overdue return to glory

 (Christian Adams )
(Christian Adams )

Oxford Street has been through many changes during its long history — from its association with the Tyburn gallows to the transformation of Oxford Circus by John Nash — but has rarely seemed so dispiriting as it has in recent years. A street where the original department stores first flourished, from Selfridge’s to John Lewis, has turned into a grim mix of American candy shops of dubious repute and cheap retail chains. But change for the better is underway: about £1 billion is being invested in Oxford Street, not least by new owners of the former Debenhams and House of Fraser stores.

It’s only a year since one retailer called Oxford Street a “national embarrassment”. Now there’s an influx of new and familiar outlets, including the return of HMV to its old site, and investment by Westminster council and the New West End Company in broader pavements, seats and trees. It’s a welcome renaissance. Once, Oxford Street was an inviting mixture of the grand and the popular, places of entertainment like the Pantheon and the Princess’s Theatre, and a diversity of retailers, including a showroom for William Morris’s wares. It would be good if the new developments could offer scope for small independent businesses as well as Ikea. It would also be good to retain buildings with some character like the Marble Arch M&S headquarters, whose fate is uncertain.

Oxford Street is one of the great thoroughfares, London’s east-west axis. It should be grand and uplifting. This development is a chance to return it to its former glory.

Setting out their stalls

No firearm in Britain is discharged more frequently than the electoral starting gun, and the trusty metaphor has fired again today. Both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer delivered speeches that they hope will define their parties in the forthcoming general election, which may be just a few months away. Mr Sunak has positioned himself as the guarantor of the nation — the man who can keep Britain safe in the next five years which, he argued, will be more turbulent than the last 30. That is, of course, if he can keep himself safe from his own quietly mutinous MPs first.

For his part, Sir Keir declared today that his party will deliver economic growth for “everyone, everywhere in partnership with our metro mayors”. This may be his avowed strategy, but as the growing row over his new Labour MP — Natalie Elphicke, a controversial defector from the Conservative Party — shows, he has a tendency to subordinate strategy to tactics. Whether either man’s positioning today will survive the sound and fury of an electoral campaign remains to be seen — but we are closer than ever to finding out.

A truly super sewer

Sewage is never a subject to bring a smile to anyone’s face, especially not in 2024 — but hold your frown. The completion of the super sewer (more properly, the Thames Tideway Tunnel) will not just save the Thames from the indignity of effluent but, as we report today, it will bring yet more good tidings: the creation of seven new public spaces along the length of the waterway. London’s parks are its treasures and so the more, the merrier. This is a quiet tribute to modern planning — using a sewer to build a park. But as you soak up the rays next summer in one of these spots, just don’t think about what lies beneath.