Oxford City Council has just announced a £1.6m investment boost for the Covered Market. Councillor Mary Clarkson, the 'Covered Market Champion' explains how it will benefit the famous site.

THE Covered Market is a unique and historic hub for independent and family-owned small businesses right in the heart of Oxford.

Many of the market’s traders have been doing business there over several generations and contributed to its rich heritage, which stretches back more than 200 years.

Our city cherishes this sort of distinctiveness and Oxford City Council is fully committed to sustaining it.

We are demonstrating our commitment to the continued success of the Covered Market by proposing £1.6 million of investment in its fabric over the next four years.

This comes on top of significant spend on electrics and the roof in recent years.

We will carry out works to the interior of the market, further roof repairs, and improve public conveniences and external paving.

To enhance its visibility and draw the attention of shoppers to the market, we will install new signage.

Acting on the Covered Market traders’ recommendations, we have appointed a dedicated manager to help its promotion.

Some concerns have been raised about the impact of the new Westgate centre on the Covered Market – despite the clearly different offer each provides.

The fact is that footfall in Oxford City Centre has continued on an upward trend since the Westgate opened.

Last week there were 13 per cent more people in the city centre than the same week last year.

While not all will be visiting the Covered Market, that’s an extra 86,000 people going up and down Cornmarket, Queen Street and elsewhere.

I do appreciate that independent retailers are always under pressure from supermarkets and online shopping.

The struggle some small family-run businesses face to staff up over the long hours for which large high street stores remain open is also a challenge.

But Graham McDonald of iScream and Wicked Chocolate, for one, told me their sales are slightly up on last year and they look forward to a positive future.

Demand for units in the Covered Market also remains good, and new traders are already bringing new life and new customers to the market while some existing traders are expanding their units.

The City Council is committed to maintaining a balance of trades with an emphasis on fresh food and independents.

We are currently considering interest in the vacant fishmonger unit and are confident of finding a replacement early in the New Year.

The council is also working collaboratively with the Covered Market Traders Association to conclude negotiations on new rent and lease renewals.

We have already offered significant reductions in the form of lower rental offers than the property market suggests, as well as rent caps for some tenants most affected by rental increases.

We are also committed to addressing concerns around the proposed city centre zero emissions zone to mitigate the impact on small businesses.

Oxford city centre currently has illegally-high levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide, which contributes to diseases including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease – and contributes to about 40,000 deaths in the UK every year.

The Zero Emission Zone proposals would cut the nitrogen dioxide level in Oxford city centre’s most polluted street, George Street, by 74 per cent by 2035 – bringing it well below the legal limit.

Overall, the outlook for the Covered Market, and the city centre as a whole, is positive and vibrant.

Void units are filling up quicker than expected following the relocation of some retailers to the new Westgate.

As the face of the city centre changes, the Covered Market, with its matchless and exciting offer, continues to maintain its allure to tourists and locals alike, as it has done over the past two centuries.

Mitzi Feller of Fellers Butchers, said: “Fellers Butchers are looking forward to a positive future in the Covered Market. Customers supporting small businesses are essential and we are grateful for all their support.

One can find unusual items in the Covered Market.”

Indeed; and who would know this better than Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who tucked into specialist cheeses and sipped handcrafted artisan Colombian coffee as they chatted with shoppers during a visit to the market in May.