WORK to replace Oxford’s Westgate centre is on track to begin at the end of the year after councillors last night gave a key permission for the plans.

Oxford City Council’s west area planning committee approved outline plans for the development, planned for a 2017 opening.

Further permission will now be sought for detailed plans for the £400m scheme, which includes a John Lewis store, cafes, restaurants, shops and a cinema.

It will go on the site of the current multi-storey car park – to be replaced underground – and adjacent land behind the existing centre.

Proposing approval, city council leader Bob Price said: “The current Westgate has been an embarrassment for pretty much all of its existence.

“I am encouraged by the fact that we have got some extremely high quality architects.”

Fellow committee member John Tanner said: “I am very satisfied with the way things are going forward, bearing in mind this is an outline application.

“Oxford has been powering ahead as far as the universities are concerned and as far as the car plant is concerned but we have been hanging behind as far as the shopping centre is concerned.”

The plans were opposed by Oxford Preservation Trust and Oxford Civic Society.

Trust director Debbie Dance told the meeting at Oxford’s Town Hall – for which the public gallery was full – that key details around the design were missing.

She said: “This is the biggest development Oxford has ever seen. We need to know what we are going to get, what it will look like from the outside.”

Committee member Elise Benjamin unsuccessfully proposed deferring the scheme to consider if more than the planned 122 flats could be provided.

Developer The Westgate Alliance is to submit a full application in the summer following public consultation.

Spokesman Sara Fuge said: “We have worked hard to understand the site as well as Oxford and the catchment.

“We are confident we are aware of all the issues raised.”