A NEW bank has been given the go-ahead to open in the heart of Oxford city centre despite fears it would take up retail space.

Metro Bank has applied for planning permission to open a new branch at 4-5 Queen Street, beneath accommodation for Christ Church students.

The city council’s policy aims to ensure that in its designated ‘primary shopping’ area the number of ground floor retail units does not fall below 80 per cent but the designated area does not take into account hundreds of new shops which opened at the revamped Westgate Centre.

On Tuesday city councillors at the West area planning committee discussed concerns that the bank would be taking the place of a retail outlet but then decided to approve the application.

City councillor Dick Wolff is not a committee member but earlier he attended a briefing from the bank for councillors and said he could see no reason why it should not be allowed to open in the busy shopping street.

The Green councillor for St Mary’s ward, welcomed the decision and said: “When some banks have been closing their branches I’m glad to see another one opening.”

Last year Reef Estates created the new building for 133 student rooms and there is a Sainsbury’s Local convenience store with an entrance in St Aldate’s.

Mr Wolff added: “Metro opens accounts for people who don’t have an address and that can be very useful for homeless people, and for buskers who want to deposit cash.*

“As hundreds of new stores have opened at the Westgate Centre I’m not worried by this change of use.”

Mr Wolff said his only concern regarding Metro Bank was its tendency to display ‘big glaring neon signs’.

He added: “I like the work Reef Estates did on the building.

“Carfax is a sensitive location when it comes to conservation so I expect there will be a separate application when it comes to the bank’s frontage.”

Retired minister Mr Wolff said he would sometimes busk to raise funds for Christian Aid nearby.

He added: “Increasingly cash is disappearing but there is still a place for a bank like Metro where you can deposit cash.”

Metro Bank launched in 2010 and now has branches across the south. A report to councillors said: “Officers consider that the radically changed retail environment within the city centre that has resulted from the development of the Westgate Centre means that, on balance, this development can be supported. The proposals accord with the wider requirements of providing suitable uses within the city centre.”

The site is close to Grade II listed buildings including Carfax Tower and lies within the central conservation area.

Metro Bank branches in Reading and Newbury open from 8am until 8pm and its representatives have told planners this could generate ‘higher levels of footfall’.

West area planning committee member Alex Hollingsworth said: “I’m sure Metro Bank will be keen to open so we should see some activity soon.”

Councillors backed the change of use from retail, known as A1, to banking, known as A2. Last year NatWest announced it was closing its High Street branch in Oxford.

* Metro Bank has clarified that to open an account, those without a home will have to provide a letter from the temporary accomodation they are staying at, and proof of identity.