WORK has started on a £36m scheme in Cornmarket Street to create new shops and student accommodation.

City councillors have backed the Jesus College plans for the revamp of Northgate House, on the corner of Cornmarket and Market Street.

Shutters were drawn over a number of shop fronts in September as the college started to prepare for a major redevelopment featuring the new shops and student rooms above.

The 8,780 sq m scheme, to replace the 1960s Northgate House, also includes a new ‘fourth’ quad and gatehouse for the expanding 450-year-old institution.

The proposals, also featuring teaching space, are part of the college’s strategic plan, and include a digital hub to ‘promote interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange’.

The college's property director David Stevenson said work on the project has now started.

He added: "Some work has already started in the basement - there has been a quiet start for design development.

"A meeting with contractors to finalise the timetable is expected to take place in January, so construction work is unlikely to start until February or March."

Mr Stevenson added that access arrangements for construction vehicles were still being finalised.

MICA Architects have estimated that the scheme will be completed by 2020.

Graham Jones, a spokesman for traders' group Rox - Promoting Oxford Businesses, said he was pleased work on the project has now started.

He added: "The worry for traders is that there is going to be a building site in the city centre for the best part of 18 months.

"It is going to be fairly disruptive and shops in the Cornmarket area are going to have to grin and bear it.

"We hope that Jesus College is lining up some decent retailers to go into Northgate House once it is rebuilt.

"The college will have to finalise its list of new tenants quite soon and be confident that those retailers will still be in existence in two years' time because there are so many changes on the high street at the moment."

Mr Jones added that he hoped shoppers would 'carry on as normal' in Cornmarket, despite any disruption.

He said: "Cornmarket has already taken a hit because of the opening the Westgate - we don't want there to be too much disruption."

In the 12 months after the Westgate Centre opened in October 2017, footfall in Cornmarket fell by 4.6 per cent, although it still has the biggest city centre footfall.

College principal Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt said earlier: “Before the Westgate Centre opened we knew we would have to raise our game and raise the retail requirement to what people now expect.

“We see this as an opportunity to help to preserve Cornmarket as the central shopping street and improve Market Street, where there is an entrance to the Covered Market.

“Even after the Westgate Centre opened there is still massive footfall so we see this as a fantastic opportunity to pull shoppers in and engage them.”

Sir Nigel has pledged to keep disruption of the shopping scene 'to a minimum' and modern construction methods will be used to ensure that some work is completed off-site.

The scheme, featuring a tower, will retain retail units on the lower levels with 68 student rooms above, plus a ‘gatehouse’ providing teaching rooms.