WITH the launch of Westgate shopping centre just days away, traders in the

county’s market towns have vowed to fight back.

Rose Lyburn, who runs fashion boutique Casa Rose in Witney, says the £440m

development with its 100 stores does not phase her.

She explained: “They are going to have a great influx of people out of curiosity

but once they’ve ticked the box, it’ll be back to normal.”

Ms Lyburn, who moved from Jericho two years ago, added: “I have ladies coming

from far afield to see me in Witney and they love the freedom of being able to

park for free, wander around shops and relax over coffee or lunch.

“In Oxford you have parking metres ticking, so you haven’t got time for those


Last month, she teamed up with the manager of the Witney branch of Café Rouge to

stage a fashion show and dinner.

It drew 145 paying guests and generated a sales boost for her business.

She plans another show next spring and holds in-store styling events for

customers, as she sees one-to-one service as key to competing with Westgate.

Town centre expert Iain Nicholson, who works with towns including Wantage, Abingdon and

Banbury, said: “One example for many Oxfordshire towns is the great group of

independent businesses they have.

“That’s a real strength and attraction to people who like to browse and shop local.”

Efforts to inject fresh life into market towns include pop-up shops in

Wallingford, Banbury, Abingdon, Wantage and Bicester.

This month’s Shoptober social media campaign is promoting 60-plus independent shops

and cafes in Banbury, while Wantage’s Then and Now project teams independent

traders with the museum to promote the town centre.

Dennis Allen, chairman of the Wake up to Woodstock group of more than 50 shops,

pubs, hotels and traders, explained: “People come to Woodstock for its

atmosphere, shops, pubs and places to eat plus we have a little palace alongside

us as well.”

He added: “We are not worried about Westgate, because we think people come here

for something completely different, so we don’t see it as a threat.

“In fact, we say good luck to them because they keep people in the area.”

Chris Baylis, who runs the Real Wood Furniture Company near Chipping Norton,

said: “By virtue of the scale and cost of being in the Westgate centre, you

won’t get small and interesting business in there.

“You are only going to get the cloned high street businesses, so it will only be

another shopping centre like all the other shopping centres up and down the


“Unless they have the parking offer right within the Westgate centre, it will

fail completely because most people don’t want to go within 100 miles of Oxford.

“For traders battling competition from the internet, parking charges, economic

doldrums and spiralling business rates, the Westgate Centre is just another challenge, Mr Nicholson said.

“I think we are getting increasingly good at facing up to those challenges and

finding our strengths and niches,” he added.