A COMPREHENSIVE review has been launched into how Oxford’s historic Covered Market can be transformed into a “consumer destination”.

Oxford City Council has spent £44,800 of taxpayers’ money on hiring consultancy firm The Retail Group to investigate how to attract more shoppers to the market, which it owns.

The fabric of the 239-year-old building, the way it is run and how it is advertised are all being scrutinised as part of the review.

The city council’s executive member for development, Colin Cook, said: “The consultants are having a look at where we can take the market forward. It is no holds barred.

“There is a study tour going off and looking at two or three markets in London and looking at how they have changed from being down at heel to being a lot more vibrant.

“We are trying to help the traders help themselves.”

He added: “I cannot give the traders carte blanche that we will do everything they say but we will be looking at it and will take things forward on the basis of their suggestions.”

The consultants will produce a report for the council – which is in dispute with traders over proposed rent increases – next month.

The authority wants to put up most tenants’ rents, in some cases by up to 70 per cent, but an independent arbitrator was called in to try to end the deadlock after talks between the two sides collapsed earlier this year.

Paul Frater, a director of The Retail Group, said he could not comment on the research or its outcome ahead of the presentation of the report to councillors.

Last week a number of Covered Market traders joined representatives of the consultants on a visit to the Spitalfields, Borough and Covent Garden markets in London.

One of them, Chris Farren, the chairman of the Covered Market Traders’ Association, said: “The council has to do something for the rent that it is trying to achieve. The market is not moving with the times.”

He added: “You cannot blame everything on the council but it will involve a massive change in the style of management.

“The signage here is appalling and the market isn’t visible enough from Cornmarket Street.”

Sultan Ansari, the owner of Ansari clothes shop, agreed.

He said: “The council has spent a lot of money on signage and they are good quality but it is a shame you cannot see them.

“It’s about time they did something like this for the market. Some of the areas are really untidy.”

Vicki Alder, of Macsamillion shoe shop, said: “I would like the basics to be done: fresh paint, better lighting, clean entrances, all common sense things you don’t have to spend a fortune on.”

Mr Cook said that he was familiar with the traders’ concerns, which could all be addressed in the consultants’ report.

City council spokesman Louisa Dean said a recent traders’ survey had a res-ponse rate of more than 90 per cent and customer profiles had been analysed as well.

She added: “We will be consulting on the findings later this year.”