9:00am Friday 27th September 2013
By Damian Fantato
THE £400m redevelopment of Oxford’s Westgate Centre has moved a step closer to reality after plans were lodged with officials.
After more than a decade of waiting, a multi-million-pound facelift is now going through the planning process.
And it has set in course a chain of events that could see building work on a 10,000sq ft John Lewis store, as well as cafes, restaurants and shops, begin next year.
John Lewis’s three-storey store would provide the centrepiece of the new shopping centre and create 2,650 jobs.
It is a joint project between the owners of the centre, the Crown Estate and Land Securities Group, who have formed the Westgate Alliance.
Now they are preparing for a meeting early next year where they hope that councillors will grant outline planning permission for the project.
The move has been hailed as a major boost for the city, with business leaders saying it could attract a wave of extra investment.
Bob Bradley, the president of Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Westgate needs revitalising and it’s great news that they have finally put plans together.
“It will help growth and help the economy in general. A lot of customers in Oxford come from other countries, so it’s bringing money into the city from abroad. Encouraging visitors and local people to spend in Oxford is good for the Oxfordshire economy.”
The plans also include a two-level basement car park, a rooftop terrace, a cinema and up to 122 new homes.
But developers have made a number of changes to the plan after a public consultation, which saw 71 per cent of 1,200 respondents say that they thought the city centre would benefit.
Changes revealed today include the possibility of housing in Old Greyfriars Street and shops in Norfolk Street.
The design and position of crossings in Thames Street have also been amended.
And cyclists would be able to use a new east-west cycle route – the continuation of Turn Again Lane – outside shopping hours.
Sara Fuge, development manager for the Westgate Alliance, said: “We’re delighted to have submitted an outline application.
“Over the past few months, the feedback we have received has been really positive, with input from the local community helping us to shape the plan.
“We believe this scheme will create an exciting new retail and leisure destination in the heart of Oxford to attract visitors from the city and beyond.”
Developers have previously revealed that the existing car park would be replaced with an underground car park that would have 1,100 spaces – 100 fewer than there are at the moment.
Chris Farren, the chairman of the Covered Market Traders’ Association, said: “We’re pressurising the city council to upgrade the Covered Market so that we can at least compete with the Westgate Centre and, providing we get that, I think it will be good for Oxford.
“The biggest downside is that there will be a reduction in parking spaces and we don’t have enough parking space anyway.”
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.
Bob Price, leader of the city council, said: “The submission of the outline application is a very welcome step towards the long-awaited redevelopment of the Westgate and St Ebbe’s area.
“The potential economic benefits for the city from the new development are enormous, especially the links between the Westgate and the parallel redevelopment of the Oxpens area.”
The latest proposals will be accompanied by the pedestrianisation of Queen Street, which will involve sending buses via Thames Street, which has proven controversial.
Hugh Jaeger, of the Oxford branch of Bus Users UK, said: “The problem with that is that the developers have made no case whatsoever that the current number of buses passing along Queen Street causes any damage to their trade.
“When the buses get to St Aldate’s, we may have even more buses there than we do now and it is already overcrowded.
“I would urge the developers very strongly to think about plans for a bus stop in Bonn Square.”
But Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said removing buses from Queen Street would make it a more pleasant environment.
He said: “The county council is proposing transport and streetscape improvements to complement the development.
“These changes would ensure people can easily access the redeveloped Westgate Centre and include improvements to public transport, cycling and walking, alongside the provision of a suitable amount of car parking.”
A decision on the planning application is expected to be made early next year, with construction work potentially beginning later in the year and the new centre opening in 2017.
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