The Opening of The Westgate Centre Will Transform the Retail Scene in Oxford


Here Richard Venables, director at VSL & Partners, examines the state of the market and looks ahead to the impact the new development will have.

The opening of the Westgate Centre will mark a seismic change in the Oxford retail landscape.

More than 100 new stores, 25 restaurants and cafes and a boutique cinema will take up 800,000 sq ft of space – double what was there before. Overall it will occupy a third of the retail space available in the city.

It is the make-up of those retailers which is interesting as it emphasises the continued shift in the city centre to the leisure and service sector.

This has been happening for some time in Cornmarket Street with most of the available space taken by the leisure sector with new food offerings, while the service sector continues to strengthen, for example with NatWest moving into part of the ex HMV unit.

We recently completed two key retail lettings. The first of 835 sq ft was at 4 Cornmarket Street which has been let to the West Cornwall Pasty Company, at a rent of £106,000 a year.  

The second was a 600 sq ft retail unit in Golden Cross leading into the Covered Market which was taken by i-glasses Ltd at £52,000 a year. Both are prime examples of the move away from traditional retailing in the city centre towards the leisure and service sector.

Anyone walking around Oxford this summer cannot have failed to notice the hordes of tourists and foreign students. The city is congested due to its geography. Westgate, with its fresh, wide open spaces is much needed and will create a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Another traditional hurdle in the city – access – has also been addressed. Westgate will provide 1,000 parking spaces while the new train station at Oxford Parkway will also be able to take the strain of additional visitors with its Park and Ride facility. The owners of the Westgate will also be making a big PR push to encourage visitors and create a user friendly environment from arrival at Park and Ride onwards.  In the future Oxford station itself is proposed for major works including the incorporation of a new bus terminal but this is likely to take some time to come.

We predict that retailing in Oxford will continue to move towards the leisure market. There is still strong demand for more restaurants and cafes and whilst this demand continues operators will continue to seek representation.  Consumers also hark for more independent retailers.  Oxford has previously suffered from a lack of retail and the relocation of some operators to Westgate will allow more opportunity for independents to find new locations.  High rental prices may detract some but secondary positions are likely to still offer favorable opportunities.

These are exciting times and I believe the new Westgate Centre will see Oxford blossom as a multi-faceted shopping destination for locals, visitors and students alike.  The first 6 months are going to be critical to prove Oxford can compete with Cheltenham, Reading and Milton Keynes as a retail destination. 

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