TRADERS in Oxford’s Covered Market have welcomed plans for the £400m Westgate Centre as they say it will bring more people into the city centre.
The redevelopment will include a 10,000sq ft John Lewis department store, a cinema, and an underground car park with 1,100 spaces.
Independent shop owners believe it could increase footfall and boost business, but are wary of how they could be affected by building work.
Vicki Alder, of Macsamillion shoe shop, said: “We’re all for anything that may bring new businesses into Oxford and encourage shopping.
“It’s going to be a bit of a worrying time during the construction period. It will depend on how much parking is available until the units are ready. But while it’s at the other end of the centre to us, I still believe there’s a place for it. I’m hoping there will be some individual shops rather than just the run-of-the-mill stores.”
Sultan Ansari, who owns the Ansari clothes shops in the market and the Clarendon Centre, said: “It will be good in some sense that there’s a lot more choice and hopefully the customers will be attracted, especially with a John Lewis.
“Footfall in Oxford is going down because people are put off by the car parking expense. But it could resolve problems and bring people back. We don’t want Oxford looking like any other town or city, but if there’s specialist and quality shops it will be good for the centre.”
The Westgate Centre is to be redeveloped in a multi-million pound scheme, with construction work expected to start next year.
Gone will be the mall’s existing Bonn Square facade to be replaced by a curved entrance topped by a glazed lantern.
Five architectural firms are working on the designs, including Panter Hudspith, which worked on the redevelopment of Oxford Castle, and Dixon Jones, which designed the Said Business School.
An artist’s impression of the new Westgate Centre
Graham Jones, spokesman for Rox Promoting Oxford Business group, said the focus of city shopping will be shifted from Carfax to Bonn Square.
He said: “It’s going to be quite a challenge for the independent shops as the main bus stops and car parking are going to be by the new Westgate Centre, and John Lewis will be the anchor store.
“That means shopping will be much further away from where it is at the moment.
“The upside is we should get more visitors coming here for serious shopping, and the Covered Market won’t be a direct competition.”
Covered Market traders are currently embroiled in a battle with Oxford City Council over proposed rent rises.
Talks collapsed last month and the issue is being dealt with by an indepedent arbitrator. They are still awaiting an outcome.