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What does a redeveloped Westgate mean for Oxford city centre?

Posted by , Associate

The redeveloped Westgate Oxford opened its doors on October 24. How will this large retail and leisure offering in the city centre with space for 125 shops, restaurants, cafes, a 5-screen cinema and a John Lewis impact the city? Commercial Property solicitor David Lane comments on Oxford’s changing shopping landscape.

Oxford

The annual event which is the John Lewis Christmas TV advert may hold added significance this winter for those who shop in and visit Oxford city centre. John Lewis is the flagship retailer at the new Westgate and will excite those who like their items never knowingly undersold. Retailing is a tough environment though, and it begs the question of what will happen for tenants already in Oxford? Will one trader’s gain be another’s loss, or will the additional offering be a boon for all?

The Westgate boasts a large rooftop area where diners and shoppers can take in views of the city, as the centre aims to provide visitors with not just shopping but also a place to enjoy their leisure time. This is a much needed addition to the cityscape and a feature that may entice shoppers to visit Oxford, rather than the purely retail focused Bicester Village. It should bolster not just the daytime, but also the night time economy, as several bars and restaurants are opened.

Max Burton of pretzel retailer Auntie Anne’s, who are going into Westgate, says: “We are delighted to be opening a new Auntie Anne’s kiosk in the transformed Westgate Shopping Centre alongside other prestigious brands. Customers in Oxford will now have access to a first class covered shopping experience and we cannot wait to serve them.”

What’s happening in the traditional Oxford retail hubs?

Pedestrianised Cornmarket, the traditional hub of Oxford retail, has begun to alter with the change in consumer tastes. Shops such as HMV, which have fallen by the wayside with changes in technology have gone, and are being replaced with eateries such as the well received Leon. Further dining options are planned and importantly these involve local businesses, not just the large chains. This is assisted by the relocation of certain high street retailers to the Westgate. This is an opportunity for the high street to evolve rather than just compete with the new development and to maintain Oxford’s individual character.

The question mark is therefore what happens to the historic Covered Market, home of artisanal and independent retailers for over 200 years. Visitors to Oxford appreciate its unique offering, in terms of architecture and variety. It is an important counterpoint to the well known but universal brands of the Westgate. Located on the other side of the city centre from Westgate, and the wrong side for those coming in by train, it is vital that its existence is highlighted to new visitors. Oxford City Council is the landlord, so this must be achievable.

Analysis by property agent Carter Jonas indicates that rents are forecast to remain stable as 2017 ends, and will hopefully rise into 2018 as a result of increasing demand. Hopefully this optimism will bear out and the city centre will continue to thrive like the university that envelopes it.

What's your view? Is the redeveloped Westgate good for Oxford? Let David know

01865 268398     Email usdavid.lane@roydswithyking.com

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