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'Shops need to help themselves to survive'
SHOPS in Oxford need to start helping themselves if they are to survive, a city councillor warned.
Colin Cook, city council board member for development, said businesses in Oxford’s shopping centres had to move with the times.
He was speaking as the first part of a review into saving the identity of Oxford’s outlying shopping areas was published.
The report identifies five areas for action in saving the character of shopping centres such as Cowley Road, Headington, Summertown and Blackbird Leys.
They are: l Trying to achieve a target of 65 per cent of buildings used as shops, l Consulting shopkeepers for their views l Measuring areas’ vitality l Finding ways to promote them l Looking at any initiatives are already under way.
Members of the city’s communities and partnership scrutiny committee will now consider what can be done about the challenges. One of the suggestions so far is to create a team to help manage the district centres, similar to how the city centre is run.
Mr Cook said: “We are not in the business of supporting private enterprise and we are in a pretty dire financial situation ourselves.
“Retailers can probably make some effort to learn how modern retailing works and how to compete with online shopping.”
He added that the council was providing training for some traders in the Covered Market, which it owns.
Mr Cook said: “I think Oxford is the most desired location for retail in the entire country and we have very low vacancy rates.
“The way people buy stuff goes in cycles and it is not something we can have a great deal of effect on.
“We used to have a lot of independent secondhand bookshops but they are just not profitable now. People didn’t go shopping in Victorian days, they had stuff delivered and now Ocado delivers things to people’s houses.
“We have gone back to a Victorian style of shopping.”
The committee has set up a councillors’ panel – consisting of Ruth Wilkinson, Bev Clack and Dick Wolff.
They have already identified a number of issues including the high number of coffee shops and charity shops in Headington and the number of big-name chains in Cowley Road.
Renee Halliday, manager of The Book House in Summertown, said: “We have got to be different to other bookshops to survive. We give advice to people who come in and we stock quirky books.”
She said cutting business rates would help smaller shops thrive.