A NEW shop that has been empty since it was created as part of a large redevelopment in Little Clarendon Street, could soon be turned into a restaurant or cafe.

The owners of the unit on the corner of Walton Street and Little Clarendon Street say they have been unable to find a tenant in the heart of the area’s cafe and bar quarter, after a year of searching.

Now Shirehall Properties is applying to Oxford City Council to change its use from retail to a restaurant or cafe. It is one of three empty units at the site.

Shirehall’s agent Huw Mellor said: “The proposal retains the individual shop unit appearance and its restaurant use would add vibrancy to the locality, particularly outside normal shop hours, with footfall encouraged into the area.

“Indeed it is very much hoped to attract a high profile restaurant user to the site that would come to act as a focus, an anchor tenant, that would draw people to the area and invigorate the locality.”

Three years ago Shirehall Properties wanted to demolish five Walton Street buildings, one of which is famous for its Lumley’s Tea advertisement on the front of the building, to create 41 student rooms and six shops.

Sausage restaurant The Big Bang, furniture shop Licious, restaurant Uddins Manzil and The Last Bookshop were given notice by the developer.

But after strong local objections to demolition of the building dating back to the 19th century, they were refurbished instead, with work completed last year and the student accommodation was sold to Lincoln College.

But while three of the new units have since been taken over by the Co-op, the other three remain unoccupied.

A marketing report prepared for Shirehall said: “Mainstream retailers have shown little interest due to the relatively limited floor space and hanging display space.

“Further caution was shown in relation to the location for traditional retailing with concerns over footfall and no tourist passing trade.”

The report says the estate agents Cluttons have seen interest in the site from a beautician, several coffee shops, a national coffee chain and a German fashion retailer.

But for various reasons none of these have worked out.

Jericho resident Simon Tavener said: “There are many, many food options in this part of the city and I cannot see another restaurant (unless it is extremely high profile) being a positive addition.

“There is already a serious issue with parking in the area – not even residents with permits can be certain of finding somewhere to park. The addition of another restaurant has the potential to place even further pressure on the area.”