TRADERS have welcomed an increase in footfall at Oxford Covered Market and say positive measures must continue to boost the number of shoppers.

City council bosses – the market's landlords – commissioned a retail survey earlier this year as they were concerned by rumours that footfall was collapsing following the opening of the £440m Westgate Centre.

As a result, staff from The Retail Group conducted a survey and found footfall has increased by an average of five per cent since 2012, with more people exploring the heart of the 18th Century building.

Traders said the news was 'encouraging' and urged the council to keep investing in improvements, including dividing up empty units to make them more attractive to businesses and improving the entrances, particularly the one in Market Street.

The independent report monitored footfall at 14 locations between 10am and 5pm on a Friday and Saturday in April.

The report compares footfall to a previous study, which used the same counting methodology, in March 2012.

Graham MacDonald, director of the Covered Market Traders’ Association and owner of iScream & Wicked Chocolate, said: “I think these figures reflect an encouraging trend, one which many city centres would be jealous of.

“It is extremely sad to see any business close and the Covered Market has had more than its fair share in recent months but what the figures show is that vibrant new businesses which have opened since the previous survey are clearly drawing people in.

“We know there are further businesses about to open and I am aware the council is talking to prospective tenants to take on some of the empty units, which will further enhance the diversity and broaden the shopping environment.

“My message to shoppers who see an empty shop is: please support the independent traders, because without them every city centre will look the same.”

Humberto Freitas, manager of Brown's cafe, urged the council to improve the Market Street entrance and public toilets next door.

He added: "The figures are positive but empty units in a place like this are noticeable - we need them to be filled with businesses that add to the vibrancy."

City council managers earlier this month pledged to split up empty units in the market, where there are about 50 traders.

The council has allocated £3.1mto secure the historic attraction's long-term future, including £1.8m to secure the roof for another 60 to 80 years and £1.3m for internal refurbishment.

The largest footfall increase was in the central part of Avenue Three – between Brother’s, Georgina's and Taylors cafés – where footfall increased by 25 per cent, from 19,624 people in 2012 to 24,521 in 2018.

The second largest increase was in the central square next to the post box, where footfall increased by 24 per cent, from 23,535 a week in 2012 to 29,196 in 2018.

The largest fall was in the Covered Market entrance by the Golden Cross Arcade, where footfall fell by 29 per cent, from 21,982 people in 2012 to 15,518 in 2018. The council does not own the arcade.

The second largest fall was in the north-west entrance, where footfall fell by 16 per cent, from 28,476 people in 2012 to 23,798 in 2018.

Footfall increased at 10 of the 14 monitoring locations. Three of the four locations where footfall fell were entrances.

The busiest area of the Covered Market in 2018 was the central square by the post box while in 2012, the busiest area was the north-west entrance.

Concluding its report, The Retail Group said: “Perhaps what’s most encouraging of all is that [footfall monitoring] points seven, eight, nine and 10 (all located in the heart of the market) have shown some of the highest increases, indicating that the consumers are now successfully shopping much more of the whole market than previously.”

Since 2012, traders such as Aria Photography, Burrows and Hare, Colombia Coffee Roasters, iScream, Jeong's Dosirak, Oxford Skate Co, Sasi Thai and Taylors have opened.

But high-profile tenants have left, including Haymans fishmongers, Macsamillion shoe shop and Hedges butchers.

Footfall is also up across the city centre. In the first half of 2018 eight per cent more people visited the city centre compared to the same period last year - 17.3m visitors in the first half of 2018, compared to 16.0m in the first half of 2017.

The Market Street entrance of the market could get a boost when Jesus College completes plans to redevelop Northgate House on the corner of Cornmarket Street.

Mary Clarkson, executive board member for culture and city centre, said: “I think undoubtedly the main reason that footfall has increased, and in particular has increased in the heart of the market, is because its fantastic mix of retail and food traders are drawing people in.

“But we are acutely aware that retailers are struggling across the UK, and there is always more we can do to increase the number of people visiting the Covered Market. We are looking to bring some more interest and colour to the entrance from Golden Cross Arcade soon, and Market Street will see significant improvements in the coming years.”

The council has pledged to conduct footfall monitoring at the market on a more regularly basis.