OXFORD has seen a boost in the number of shoppers in the city centre in the last year, but Cornmarket Street has suffered a dip in footfall since the opening of the £440m Westgate Centre.

A new retail survey conducted on behalf of the city council has shown overall an 8.9 per cent increase in footfall across the city during the past 12 months, compared to the previous year.

And while Cornmarket still has the biggest footfall, the number of people has declined since the opening of the Westgate Centre in October, which brought more than 100 new shops and restaurants, including a John Lewis department store.

The massive former Next unit in Cornmarket remains vacant but city councillors have backed Jesus College's plans to refurbish Northgate House in Market Street and create additional retail space for smaller outlets.

Menswear store Moss Bros has opened a new store in Westgate and is closing its Cornmarket branch on Saturday.

Ben Dovidio, one of its Oxford managers, said: "I'm not surprised by these latest figures - the centre of the city has moved and it is now Westgate.

"When a business has the opportunity to move to a smart new unit like the ones in Westgate it is going to take it.

"The council needs to work with landlords to fill empty units in Cornmarket as soon as possible."

From October 2016 to October 2017 there were about 18 million shoppers using Cornmarket but this fell to about 17.2 million from October 2017-October 2018, a reduction of 4.6 per cent.

Mary Clarkson, board member for culture and city centre, said: “While many high streets across the country are suffering in the current challenging retail climate, I’m pleased that Oxford continues to buck the trend with nearly three million more visitors to the city over the past 12 months compared with the year before.

"Westgate has undoubtedly proved an extra draw, and the new public spaces it has created in the city has enabled the crowds to disperse beyond Cornmarket.

"Cornmarket itself is still the busiest thoroughfare in our city and is now undergoing significant improvement, with Jesus College’s refurbishment of Northgate House, to create additional retail space for smaller outlets.

"This complements the city council’s investment in the Covered Market and new retailers on Turl Street to strengthen what is becoming the city’s independent retail quarter.”

The survey also compared footfall in Cornmarket for the week of October 1-7, 2018 compared to the week of October 2-8, 2017 - just before Westgate opened - and it showed a 13.9 per cent reduction in shoppers.

There were 358,178 shoppers for the week surveyed in 2018, compared to 415,768 for the same week in 2017. However, figures can vary from week to week.

Chloe Jackson, assistant manager of the West Cornwall Pasty Company in Cornmarket, said the decrease in footfall was noticeable.

She added: "I do think last year was much busier - it's sad that some stores have moved to Westgate.

"Sometimes Cornmarket looks rammed but that doesn't necessarily mean people are spending money."

Queen Street has benefitted hugely from the opening of the Westgate, with a 38 per cent increase in footfall, year on year.

Andrew Martin, a manager at Marks & Spencer in Queen Street, said: "Westgate has been beneficial for M&S in Queen Street - it makes the city centre more attractive to shoppers."

St George's Place, off George Street, has shown a slight decrease in footfall of 2.1 per cent.

In June, a study by Centre for Cities showed that Oxford has more retailing than the average UK city centre – 48 per cent compared to 26 per cent.

The percentage of vacant units is also lower than the UK average – eight per cent compared to 12 per cent.

Last month Mrs Clarkson said there were 27 vacant units across the city centre outside the Westgate, with a further two taken up by new tenants and seven undergoing redevelopment.

The Westgate Centre has reported 96 per cent of its units are let.

Last month shutters went up at some stores in Cornmarket as Jesus College prepares for a major redevelopment.

In August city councillors backed the college's plans for the revamp of Northgate House on the corner of Cornmarket Street and Market Street.

The scheme, featuring a tower, will retain retail units on the lower levels, with 68 student rooms above.