SHOPPERS will ignore construction work being completed at the Westgate Centre as they visit to see its new stores, according to retail experts.

With just seven days to go until the grand opening, contractors are working flat out to get the £440m centre looking its best by Tuesday, October 24.

Only 60 of the 125 units will open on day one, with the total expected to rise to 90 by Christmas.

The centre’s development manager Sara Fuge said last week that work would still be going on ‘behind the scenes’ on the opening day.

Shopping centre owners Westgate Oxford Alliance would not comment further on the progress of construction work yesterday.

But retail experts said the opening of the new centre, featuring John Lewis as an anchor store, would be celebrated by shoppers.

Graham Jones, of traders’ group ROX – Backing Oxford Business – said: “If there is still some construction work to be completed by the time the centre opens I am sure it will not put shoppers off.

“I think traders have to be positive and think that the new Westgate Centre will have a positive effect.

“We hope the increase in shoppers the Westgate brings will spill over into other parts of the city centre.

“If gaps appear in Cornmarket Street as some retailers switch to Westgate we have to make sure those units as filled quickly.”

Mr Jones added that the ‘phased opening’ of the centre could ease any potential congestion problems.

“Some shoppers might hold on if they find out their favourite shop or restaurant is not opening straight away,” he added.

City council leader Bob Price said the centre was expected to open on Tuesday and added: “It will be a significant increase in the city’s retail footprint.”

John Lewis and Primark will be among the biggest draws from day one once the new centre opens.

Staff at John Lewis have been busy putting 55,000 products on display at the 120,000 sq ft store.

Primark was the flagship store of the old Westgate Centre with a 64,000 sq ft three-storey unit but following refurbishment it will have a 40,000 sq ft shop, larger than its UK average size, selling the latest trends in women’s, men’s and children’s fashions including footwear, accessories as well as lingerie, beauty and homeware.

Retail expert Keith Slater, of the Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network, said: “Any remaining construction work will not put shoppers off.

“It’s normal that some shop fitting will continue after the centre opens.

“Construction work is not something shoppers need to worry about.

“As long as retailers can get their stock in from the loading bays then shoppers should not be affected.”

Mr Slater added he expected Oxford city centre as a whole would get a boost from the opening of Westgate.

He added: “People have been talking about plans for a new Westgate Centre for over 20 years and it is finally happening.

“Shoppers will look away if they see any building work and just carry on to the shops because they know they will be seeing the very best brands and latest shop fits.

“The Trinity centre had a big impact on Leeds when it opened and shoppers will come from outside Oxfordshire to see what Westgate is like.”

Junaid Ansari, manager of independent grooming products specialist Burrows & Hare in the Covered Market, is opening his second store at Westgate on Tuesday.

There will be more than 100 new shops, 25 restaurants and a boutique cinema.