When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Suburbs in danger of becoming bland
A REVIEW has been launched to save the identity of Oxford’s outlying shopping areas.
It was launched after Headington councillor Ruth Wilkinson said she feared for the future of areas such as Summertown, Cowley Road, Headington and Templars Square.
Last night her concerns were backed by traders including those in Cowley Road where a Coffee Republic has become the latest chain planning to move into one of Oxford’s most iconic streets.
Mrs Wilkinson said the areas needed to retain their idenitites but faced an onslaught of too many national chains, charity shops and coffee outlets. She hoped the council could step in and play its part ot lead a new revitalisation of the areas.
She said: “Residents don’t want to see empty shops in their local centres and sometimes people think there are too many outlets selling similar products, like coffee shops and charity shops and chain stores.
“We want to find out how the council can measure and help improve the vitality of our local shopping areas, and attract more customers.”
Graham Jones, of traders’ group ROX, last night warned parts of Oxford risked becoming “bland” and “uniform” if nothing was done.
He said: “We have to accept there have been changes in retailing but that is why more needs to be done.
“We need more effort to be made on this.
“Business rates are challenging and it would be nice if they could be lowered. Parking charges should go down if we are to see a revival of business in Oxford.”
Business rates are calculated by multiplying the value of a property with the so-called national multiplier which is set by central government. The multiplier for small businesses is currently 42.6p but was revaluated last year and came down from 48.1p.
Coffee Republic’s opening later this month comes after a high-profile campaign in 2007 against a branch of Costa Coffee further up the road.
Gary Good, owner of independent store The Music Box, said: “The area is turning into big chains of coffee shops, hairdressers and charity shops. Cowley Road is losing its character.”
Carl Smithson, who runs Truck Store, said: “Obviously you don’t want to see Cowley Road become all chains like the city centre.
“The one way you can combat chains is to be better than them. Cowley Road is such a great area that there should be more awareness of it.
“Maybe it is not quite as well publicised as it could be and maybe the council could play its part there.”
David Reynolds, of Coffee Republic, said: “The franchisee is a local businessman who knows the area very well. “He is very keen on the brand and the site is appropriate for us. We wouldn’t be opening there if we didn’t think it was right for Cowley Road.”
Andrew Topping, manager of estate agents Breckon and Breckon in Headington, helped set up a lobby group to help keep the London Road shopping district vibrant. He said: “Looking at the suburbs within the city, the local authority can do something to improve things.
“The costs of parking and the variation of shops are some things which need to be looked at. “Headington has quite a large number of coffee shops and charity shops and that’s quite common across district centres.”
Parking charges vary in car parks across the city. One hour in St Clement’s car park in 2008 cost 90p while now it costs £1.20.
City councillor Colin Cook, the executive board member for city development, said: “What we do is we set a limit on the number of shops which can change their use class, but if it continues within an existing use class there is nothing the council can do.
“Parking at district centres is good value compared to the city centre.
“Vacancy rates in Oxford are relatively low so that suggests to me that it is a vibrant place and bucking the trend.”
The council’s communities and partnership scrutiny committee will discuss the issue further on Wednesday, November 28.
Oxford’s biggest shopping centre was opened in 1965 but not known by its current name until 1989.
At the moment 75 of the centre’s units are occupied, with seven available, one under development and another set to reopen soon as a toy shop. This is down from the 85 retailers who were in the centre a decade ago, but up from the 63 there were three years ago.
Diane Garbutt, manager of Ultimate Golf, said: “There are empty shops but there is a good variety of open ones.
“There are quite a few charity shops but that’s the same in all these places.”
In recent years shops have closed down and been replaced by charity shops, which traders have expressed concern about.
Cancer Research UK even has two charity shops on opposite sides of London Road.
David Green, owner of Brambles Wool Shop, said: “They have spent a lot of money up here on new pavements and furniture to be fair.
“They could probably cut the car parking fees but it isn’t going to happen. We would all like a lot more independent shops but the owners have got to let them to someone.”
Decades ago the area used to be home to a fishmongers, butchers and florists but has now gone more upmarket.
In May Sainsbury’s opened in a former newsagent’s site making it the fourth big name supermarket along the Banbury Road shopping area.
Kate Kay, manager of The Book House in Banbury Road, said: “Business is OK at the moment.
“It would be nice to have less big coffee shops and supermarkets and more smaller shops.”
THE area has long been home to countless independent shops – and a large part of Oxford’s student population.
But in recent years a number of big name chains have opened up along the road and – in the case of Costa Coffee – have sparked outrage among traders.
Carl Smithson, pictured, manager of Truck Store, said: “There are lots of new businesses opening but parking is an issue.”
The nearby St Clement’s car park is set to be built on and has sparked concerns from traders about the impact on their businesses.