TRADERS have welcomed a bumper weekend at Oxford’s new Westgate as thousands of people packed the shopping centre on its first weekend in operation.

Shops and restaurant chains said interest from customers had exceeded expectations, with business more brisk than at any other opening they had experienced.

Some 60 out of 125 shops and restaurants at the £440m shopping centre opened last Tuesday, with others opening since, and thousands of people took advantage of their first opportunity to have a look around.

Fears of gridlock on the roads failed to materialise, with shoppers filling the Seacourt Park and Ride, in west Oxford. Traffic on Botley Road and was heavy yesterday afternoon, but flowing and about average on other routes.

Siggi Gunnlaugsson, executive chef of Tommi Burger Joint, said business had been phenomenal over the weekend, with more than 700 burgers served each day. “We have opened 21 restaurants in places like London, Copenhagen, Berlin and Rome, but this has been the busiest yet.

“We have ‘lucked out’!”

The deputy manager at Blackwell’s, Charlie Bush, which has opened its second city centre store in the Westgate, said staff were bullish after a successful first few days trading.

He said managers of the famous Oxford bookshop couldn’t resist the opportunity to move in to the new centre, with their new store focusing on ‘crowd-pleasing’ books and events.

He said: “Every time I go on the shop floor we seem busy. Everyone has come out to have a good look around.”

TV chef Nigella Lawson will officially open the store on Wednesday.

Shopper, Kaz Kemp, from Witney, was making a return visit with husband Dan and daughter Ellie.

The 48-year-old landscape gardener said: “I have never seen Oxford so busy.

“It’s not just in the Westgate, we have been all over and Cornmarket Street was packed as well.

“I think it is amazing for Oxford. We are going to be here quite a lot.”

Samantha and Richard Birket travelled with daughter Lyra by bus from their home in Cowley and said they found the journey easy.

Mr Birket, a 43-year-old company director, said: “It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be and parts are already looking a bit worn in places.

“The jury is still out on the impact it will have on the whole of Oxford, but you can’t stop progress because of fears about congestion.”

Mrs Birket, a teaching assistant, said: “We would have liked a few more independent shops. It is great for Oxford, I just hope the smaller shops can survive elsewhere.”

Bosses at the centre have talked up its potential as a night-time as well as a day-time destination with bars and restaurants open until late into the evening and Saturday saw new bar and bistro the Alchemist open for the first time.