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Chain store market leasing is reviewed
THE leasing strategy for shop units at Oxford’s Covered Market is being reviewed by city councillors in a bid to prevent chain stores from opening there.
In 2011, Oxford City Council, which owns the market, agreed to rent out one of the units to Cards Galore, which sparked outrage from many of the traders, who feared an influx of national chains.
Before that the former Palms delicatessen unit in the Covered Market had remained empty for two years.
Now a panel of the council’s scrutiny committee has said it will look at what happened to prevent the circumstances from being repeated in the future.
City councillor Jim Campbell, who chairs the cross-party panel, said: “We are reviewing the whole Covered Market issue, we are looking at the leasing strategy and at what happens when there are empty units.
“We are looking at this more for the future rather than into cases in the past.
“It was interesting that when we went around the market again and again what happened with Palms was mentioned by traders as an example of poor management.
“I didn’t agree or disagree with them to their faces but it was a very sorry story.”
As well as this internal review, the city council has hired consultancy firm The Retail Group to carry out a review into how the 239-year-old market can attract more shoppers. The fabric of the building, the way it is run and how it is advertised are all being scrutinised as part of the review.
In addition to this, the city council’s attempts to increase rents by up to 70 per cent have been taken to independent arbitration.
Tim Gresswell, who runs the newsagent in the market, said: “A lot of the traders are unhappy that the chains are getting into the market because the only people prepared to pay that kind of rent are chains.
“But that doesn’t help people who want to start out in business and want a small unit.
“The city council couldn’t let the Palms unit and had to do work on it before they let it out but I don’t know how much they spent.”
The council has a policy of ensuring that at least 60 per cent of all shops in the market sell food or are cafés.
Last month café and chocolate shop Chocology shut down after 12 years in the Covered Market because owner John Partington felt the rent was going up too much. The city council was asked to comment on the case but did not.
Cards Galore has declined to comment.
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