MORE than £230m will be pumped into the city’s economy every year if the Westgate Centre revamp is approved next week, officials have claimed.
Oxford City Council officers yesterday gave their support to the plan, but demanded £4.3m from the developers for infrastructure improvements.
Their report says the new West- gate would give a boost of more than £4m to Oxford’s infrastructure and create 3,400 jobs.
Now, after 15 years of waiting, a decision will be made next week by the council’s west area planning committee at Town Hall on whether the scheme should go ahead.
In its report on the proposals, the city council says: “Officers are conscious that in 25 years since the first (of several) proposals for extension to the Westgate Shopping Centre were received, Oxford has declined relative to other towns and cities in the South Midlands and south-east England in its role as a sub-regional centre.
“In that time, the Westgate Shopping Centre and car park have become tired and down-at-heel offering only a limited and poor retail experience.
“The current proposals provide an opportunity to arrest the decline and re-establish Oxford within the sub-region.”
Once complete, the shopping centre will feature a 10,000sq m John Lewis store as well as cafes, restaurants, shops and a cinema.
The report estimates that the redevelopment will generate more than £350m in annual turnover – of which more than £230m would be diverted from competing towns such as Reading, Milton Keynes and Swindon.
But, in order for the scheme to go ahead, the city council has told the developer – the Westgate Alliance – to contribute more than £4.3m to the local infrastructure, including on Oxford’s park-and-ride system, a new bridge across the River Thames at Oxpens and primary school education in the area.
The development is a joint project between the owners of the centre, the Crown Estate and Land Securities Group.
Plans also include a two-level basement car park, a rooftop terrace and up to 122 new homes.
But there have been concerns about the development raised by bodies such as Oxford Preservation Trust, which said the plans were bad for the city’s heritage.
Debbie Dance, the director of the trust, is also worried that the Alliance has submitted a less detailed outline application first, before a more detailed planning application later this year.
She said: “We support a shopping centre, but we feel there’s a lot of detail we are not aware of at this stage which we would have preferred to have available to comment on.”
A £220m scheme to redevelop the Westgate Centre was first put forward in 1999 but the plans were rejected by the Government three years later, despite having been approved by the city council.
In 2007, another £330m scheme was given permission and work started – with the Duke of York pub demolished – but the financial crisis meant construction stopped and never resumed.
Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis, said: “We’re looking forward to becoming part of the local community.”
The Westgate Alliance hopes to open in 2017.
Sara Fuge, above, development manager for the Westgate Oxford Alliance, said: “We look forward to members considering the plans at next week’s planning committee.”
There have been some concerns from independent traders about the impact the scheme will have on them.
But workers in the Covered Market yesterday welcomed the report.
Colette Jacquelin, 47, a sales assistant at Fresh Oxford, said: “It will bring more footfall into the Covered Market. Shoppers here are looking for something quite different. We don’t see it as a threat, especially if it invites more people in. It is long overdue.”
Sales assistant at Recover Mobile, Sarbjeet Singh, 24 said: “There will be more space, more new stores, more businesses. I am looking forward to something new. There should be more business at my shop when it is finished.”
Assistant manager at Macsamillion in the Covered Market, Pauline Palmer, 55, said: “It will be a good idea to have a John Lewis, but I don’t know if it warrants all the money being spent. Oxford always needs something to draw people in.”
A public question-and-answer session for the west area planning committee will be held on Thursday at 7pm in Town Hall. The decision will be made by the same committee next Tuesday at 6.30pm in the Town Hall.
REPORT’S MAIN POINTS
The application should be supported, but because of its scale will be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles A total of 57 proposed conditions are attached including a minimum number of parking spaces and the provision of cycle parking.
The developer is being asked to contribute around £4.3m as a community infrastructure levy, which is calculated on the square metre size of the scheme. This will go towards Oxford’s park-and-ride system, a new bridge over the Thames at Oxpens and primary school education in the area.
A financial contribution will be made to affordable housing in the city.
‘It will bring up Oxford to be competitive with other areas like Cheltenham. At the moment, Oxford is falling behind.’
Michelle Hill, 49, from Witney above
‘It is very frustrating for everyone because of the long time we have had to wait, but Oxford deserves some better shops.’
Joseck Ngoka, 56, from Wootton, above
‘I go up to Stratford or Milton Keynes to get some good stores where the whole design of the place is great. Oxford needs somewhere like that.’
Helena O’Connor, 51,
from Abingdon, above