T he trend among a certain section of society, so I am told, is to avoid brands and show your individuality.

No more walking around with an advertisement on your chest, in the shape of the brand logo of the maker of your tee shirt; no more travelling with luggage decorated with the initials of the bag manufacturer — and so proclaiming how expensive it was.

Instead I understand that individuality is becoming the name of the game. The trouble is most store chains sell the same, recognisable, sort of things regardless of which city centre you happen to be in.

But one part of Oxford seems to have more than its fair share of small shops run by people doing their own thing and going their own way.

St Clements, including The Plain and the bottom end of Cowley Road has a raffish, cosmopolitan feel to it as well as some beautiful buildings.

Now, of course, the traders in the area are united in their concern about plans to develop St Clements car park into student flats, a move that many fear will take customers away from the area.

Originally it was feared the bulldozers would arrive this month and effectively stymie the Christmas trade. But now it is clear there will be no demolition or construction work until the New Year.

After years of trying to obtain planning permission, developers Watkin Jones decided to change their application for a four-block 140-room student housing development in order to include a “phased approach” to building work, so that the car park would stay open during the project.

The company finally succeeded but traders remain concerned because the new plan still means the number of spaces will be reduced from 115 to just 80.

Yet traders I spoke to were keen to move on and promote the merits of the area as a whole rather than keep on moaning about parking.

For instance, Josh Knight, who together with partner Sarah Wearden, runs the shop Indigo, said: “It goes without saying that Christmas shopping is a much more pleasurable experience here than going into Cornmarket or other city centre shops.

And you can get pretty much everything you need here.

“I think shops and businesses round here share one thing in common: a desire to offer high-quality, sensitively sourced or locally-made products that people can buy with a clean conscience.”

The couple opened the shop four years ago and so only know about trading during recession or near-recession They sell fairtrade eco clothing, gifts, homewares and children’s toys.

Mr Knight said: “People thought we were mad but we love it here — despite quite high costs — and I think a lot of customers love it here too. I agree It is old fashioned but I think old fashioned is the new fashion.

“Britain is the biggest Internet shopping country in Europe and of course we have a website too, but we feel nothing can beat shopping at small shops and seeing, touching, and smelling the goods on offer.”

And I had the feeling that most traders in the area would agree with him. I next visited interior decorators’ shop Annie Sloan, passing cafés that reminded me of the middle east, complete with hookah pipes in the windows and oriental carpets on the floor.

Ms Sloan was out when I arrived but her husband David said: “Of course everyone is disappointed by the car park decision, but it does not alter the fact this area has a tremendous buzz to it. We love it.”

Other businesses in the area include Bridget Wheatley (handmade jewellery and greeting cards); Uhuru (wholefoods); Eau de Vie (beauty and health products); Meli (Mediterranean, Greek and luxury foods); Shirtworks (tee-shirts printed to order) and Ballroom (vintage and recycled clothing and accessories).

But back to the car park issue. Playing devil’s advocate I asked Mr Knight whether the students in the new flats might not bring more, not less, trade to the area?

But he replied: “No — surprisingly,not many of our customers are students.”

Restaurateur Clinton Pugh was more outspoken. He said the council was thinking too much about its own financial benefit, as it stands to benefit when it sells the land and not about the effect the development will have on the area.

He said: “I am obviously very disappointed. I do not think it is the best outcome for St Clement’s.

“I think the more senior members of the council were thinking about how much it helps with their budget, not the reality of the effect it will have.”

But all agree: only time will tell how the decision will affect the development of this highly individualistic area.

In the meantime, Sietske Bowles of the East Oxford Residents’ Association, said: “We think the reduction in car parking will affect not only this area but also many of the pubs, shops and restaurants in Oxford too.”