Global slump hits Westgate

Graham Jones at the Westgate Centre

Graham Jones at the Westgate Centre

First published in News by

One of the biggest redevelopment projects in the history of Oxford has been delayed because of the continuing economic slump.

The Westgate Partnership, the organisation behind the £330m revamp of the Westgate Shopping Centre, could give no firm dates for when the centre would open.

Last nightJuly10, project backers said they would be reviewing financing for the scheme.

A question-mark now hangs over when building work will start, with the economic downturn showing no sign of abating.

Westgate Partnership marketing manager Simon Wardcorr initially told the Oxford Mail timescales for the project were "under review", but later admitted "yes, it has been delayed", before again reverting to the line that timescales were "under review".

He blamed "difficult market conditions" for a need to review financing options for the centre.

Mr Ward said: "The difficulties facing investment markets are affecting economies across the globe. The current market conditions have facilitated the need to review financing options for Westgate.

"However, The Westgate Partnership remains fully committed to the project."

The revamped centre has long been feted as the centrepiece of a huge regeneration of the city's West End.

Businesses last nightJuly10 described the Westgate delay as "disappointing" and "bad news for Oxford".

Traders had hoped the new-look centre would bring thousands of new shoppers into their stores.

Graham Jonescorr, spokesman for Rescue Oxford, said: "It is bad news for Oxford.

"It creates a bit of uncertainty, but it is not so worrying as if they were doing a total review of the whole project."

Work on the centre was due to begin in January2009, with new retailers including flagship store John Lewis ready to accept customers by spring 2012.

The centre was originally due to open in 2011, but work was delayed in March2008 as developers waited on the result of Oxford City Council's application for a Compulsory Purchase Order for surrounding land.

It was approved by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears in June.

The Partnership said it remained fully committed to the project, adding it was continuing with site preparation.

The news follows the revelation in May that Cherwell District Council had been forced to bail out £70m plans to revamp Bicester town centre following a slump in the global economy.

City councillor Colin Cookcorr, the board member for city development, said: "It is sad the Westgate Centre is not going ahead as quickly as it might have done, but the world circumstances are such that many schemes like this across the city and across the world are likely to be delayed."

Christian Pattison, the carer of multiple sclerosis sufferer Vincent McKeown - who lives in Abbey Place and opposed the CPO - said he hoped the delay would allow the developers to consult further.

Mr Pattison said: "I think they should make sure they fulfil all their obligations to the local residents, which includes listening to their point of view."

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