A MAJOR building on Cornmarket Street could be demolished and rebuilt to create a 'market quarter' in a bid to fill vacant units and boost footfall to the Covered Market.

Plans have been unveiled by Jesus College to redevelop Northgate House, on the corner of Market Street, and split it up into smaller units to encourage independent firms to move to the city centre.

Next and River Island both moved out of the ground floor of the 1960s building last year, leaving Fat Face and Carphone Warehouse, whose leases are believed to run out by 2020.

But 'uncertainty' over the future of retail in the city centre following the opening of the Westgate Centre has led to flexible plans for a number of smaller units spread over three floors.

The upper floors would contain teaching room, cafe facilities and 68 student rooms for postgraduates.

Bob Price, the city council's board member for economic development said it would be an improvement on the 'monstrosity' built in the 1960s and increase footfall to the historic market, which has struggled in recent years.

He said: "It's a really exciting proposal – it's an opportunity to improve Market Street and the entrance to the Covered Market and it will provide new smaller units, which is what Cornmarket Street needs.

"Smaller units will hopefully encourage more independent businesses to come into the city centre – the rents of course are up to the college but there is the potential for lower rental prices."

The plans revealed a number of 'market stalls' could be created along the side of the building facing the Covered Market.

Mr Price said: "We are in discussions with Jesus College about how it might be done but there's an opportunity for units in Market Street to encourage people to walk down it and increase footfall into the market.

"The college will be able to house most of, if not all of, its undergraduates in its precinct, which will increase the amount of footfall in the city centre and encourage the students to use the immediate facilities, such as the Covered Market."

The city’s design review panel suggested the smaller units due to the uncertain future of the street following the opening of the £440m Westgate Centre.

The Covered Market, which has also been hit by a number of departures in recent months could also benefit from the plans.

A number of long-serving market traders have left the market recently, including McCarthy's Fruit and Veg, Haymans the fishmongers, and butchers John Lindsey.

Traders have called for better promotion of the market and Oxford City Council recently announced it would invest £1.6m into the market over the next four years.

Secretary of the Covered Market Tenants Association, Sandie Griffith, said the redevelopment was a 'brilliant' proposal.

She said: "If you stand in Cornmarket Street and look down Market Street it's not particularly exciting, the first thing you see is the market yard.

"Anything that improves the street and encourages people down it will be beneficial to the market and its traders.

"We can't stop units opening up opposite, but there's talk of it becoming a market quarter."

Ms Griffith, who runs Jemini Flowers, added that students were some of her best customers and hoped the new intake would use market's food traders and other businesses on a regular basis.

In submitting the plans, Jesus College said: “The proposal also offers a wider benefit in providing a visual marker not only for the College but also for the Covered Market and for Market Street more generally, and by bringing more footfall into Market Street it could, in turn, increase footfall into the Covered Market.

“Currently, Market Street has the feel of a thoroughfare, rather than a destination - its function is to link Cornmarket Street with Turl Street but it is not a place to stop.”