AFTER two years of waiting, work has finally begun on a long-awaited new shopping centre.

Diggers are on site at the West Way in Botley with demolition of an old building under way - the first sign of action on the site since planning permission was initially granted in 2016.

Residents have hailed the move as a day they never thought would come, with hopes raised that the beleaguered local area can now be rejuvenated.

Since planning permission was granted, many shops have shut leading to the area becoming full of boarded up units.

But campaigners have warned that site owners Botley Development Company and developer Mace continue to change their planned scheme with residents having to suffer the consequences in the long run.

The initial work has seen the demolition of part of the old Grant Thornton office building, close to the Southern By-Pass Road.

Existing supermarkets including Tesco and the Co-Op will eventually temporarily move into this part of the site while their old units in the current 60s shopping centre are demolished.

Jackie Slade, 66, who has lived on nearby Montagu Road for 35 years said: “My kids grew up here but have all since moved away.

"They couldn’t believe what had happened to the place when they came back, it was really sad.

“It is so nice to see it getting going. I had to stop and watch and I just thought ‘at last’.

“I am feeling more hopeful than I have been in a long time."

She added: “The whole community has gone for the time being.

“If we get some nice places to eat and drink, it will bring everyone back together again.

“I never thought this day would come – we were just given another date and another one and another one. I’m so happy to see it begin – it’s a new start for everybody.”

The £100million pound project, which will include a hotel, student accommodation and new shops, was first suggested as early as 2012 but has been hit by a catalogue of problems.

Developers had to redesign the scheme last year in a bid to satisfy concerns about entrances to the site and so it could be completed in phases.

Mace then said it wanted to start in the autumn but this deadline was missed as the terms of the sale had not been agreed.

Vale of White Horse Council eventually accepted a £12.4million offer in January, £1.4million less than expected.

In the meantime existing retailers' leases expired leaving the site deserted and it has been repeatedly targeted with graffiti.

Nicola Horsley, manager at Jasons Flowers on nearby Elms Parade, said she was pleased to see work start but worried too much damage had been done to the area's shopping scene.

She said the business was relying on online sales as fewer customers are now visiting the parade of shops and added: “I would like to think the new shops will be good for us but it will be a long time coming.

"They had the chance to make this whole area into more of a shopping destination but it has just taken so long.

"A lot of people have decided to shop elsewhere. We hope it’s not too late."

Andy Brock who runs the butchers on the same stretch of shops said his business was down on this time last year and he was having to face making a 'big decision' about whether he could keep going until the West Way is finished.

In further developments, Vale council will consider minor changes to planning permission on the scheme next Wednesday.

Mary Gill, of West Way Community Concern, said she was concerned that Mace had removed plans for secure student and employee cycle parking and was proposing to replace ramps with steps, raising concerns about access for people in wheelchairs.

She added: "We are down to the detail now but we will have to live with it for however long so we've got to get it right.

"We are not trying to stop the development, we want it to be as good as possible.

"They want to get going now but it's worth spending a little longer thinking about the consequences."

Mace was contacted for comment but did not respond.